Sometimes the only answer is to push them in the pool…

I don’t know about you, but  with the holiday season in full swing I find myself building towers of great expectations.  Like sand castles carefully crafted in my mind, I begin to delight in the soon to be; the holiday dream of Thanksgiving Gratitude and Christmas Cheer.  Unfortunately, this dream is filled with pesky stipulations and impractical ideas of perfection that surpass what reality can offer.

You see, I am slowly learning that my expectations have a habit of distracting me and leaving me a bit disappointed by the real and authentic holiday experience.  The real and authentic will be filled with grocery lists and dirty dishes, bathrooms to clean and laundry to do.  The real and authentic will include family disagreements and recipes that don’t turn out as Pinterest described.  The real and authentic will look more like the broken string of Christmas lights I found in my basement than the Martha Stewart magazine cover I stare at in the grocery store check out line.

The truth is, to experience the real and authentic Holiday season, I have to focus less on my expectations and more on my Savior; more on the baby in the manager.  More on the miracle and less on the material.  More on Him and less on me.  And… if I am honest… isn’t that how it always is, this life.  Personal expectations distracting and robbing  joy, only to find true joy when I refocus on Him again.  Refocusing. Washing my mind in His word, reminding myself who is central, taking myself off the thrown so Christ can rule and reign in my life.

Recently, while praying with a close friend she shared a vision with me; a picture, with a symbolic meaning.  The memory/ vision that the Holy Spirit brought to her mind during our time of prayer was from her teenage years as a life guard.  You see, she was in the pool and had a question for a fellow life guard who was standing on the  pool deck. The life guard on the pool deck couldn’t hear here and felt a sense of urgency to reach his fellow guarder of life.  He was a particularly fun person and the kids loved him so as he moved toward his female coworker the boys in the pool began to swarm around him in an effort to play.  He responded as one completely focused on his goal, reaching his fellow life guard, and pushed each of them safely into the swimming pool.  Her picture was one of an individual so focused on his goal that he forced all distractions out of his way.  She shared this picture with me during our prayer; a humorous memory from her past, that now carried an incredibly important and personal meaning for my present.  Stay focused.  Push the distractions and cares out of the way as I reach for the upward call of Christ Jesus.  Discern what matters and what doesn’t, then refocus.

Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”

This holiday season and everyday that follows, I want to run the race God’s called me to and avoid the trap of expectation and distraction.

The Greatest

By:  Pastor Jackie Roberts 

Luke 22:24–27 (ESV) “24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

I used to wonder why the disciples would sit around, in the presence of Jesus, and have these discussions. With the goal of self-promotion in the aura of true greatness, they polluted the waters with selfish conversation.  This choice, so unseemly inappropriate, is the perfect imperfect example of the human condition put on display for all to see. The funny part is that we, modern day Christians, do not see our continued participation in this folly.

The Christian faith is built on certain essential doctrines, upon which (to be considered orthodox) we must have unity. The deity of Christ, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the resurrection of Christ, the gospel, monotheism – there is only one God, and the trinity. These essential doctrines are the incomparable truths of the Christian faith. Peter Meiderlin in the 1600’s wrote a paper on the theology of Augustine, which included an idea that spread widely through the church, the form we are most familiar with goes like this – “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas” – it is a latin phrase which translated basically means, “In necessary things unity; in uncertain things freedom; in all things love”. This idea, however, is foreign to the human condition. Why? We want everyone to agree that our position on whatever, is the greatest! Another way to state this is we major in the minors. We tend to elevate uncertain beliefs to the place of necessary beliefs; thereby sacrificing truth for certainty.

The natural question is how do we ascertain the necessary beliefs in which we must have unity? Simply put those beliefs that are clearly taught in scripture. The Word of God is the final arbiter and authority in all things. Where the scripture is clear we as a church should be unified behind its teachings, where scripture is unclear we should have the freedom to discuss and debate without fear of excommunication. In all our discussion the Word of God is the final word and our opinions about it are secondary. Why then, in so many discussions today, do we demand that all Christians think like we do about uncertain things? Why do we assume that true Christianity is republican? Why do we allow the uncertain things of this world to divide the house of God behind carnal issues? Why do we think it is ok to build straw men out of other opinions and knock them over assuming that should end the discussion? Are we not still demanding of one another to recognize one’s self as the greatest, or my view as the most intellectual, or my stand as the most godly?

When considering men and women in this time, it has often been said  that we have lost both the ability to engage in meaningful discussion about difficult issues and the capacity to resolve conflict through debate and critical thought. Instead, we isolate from those who disagree with us and become the weaker for it. Our churches don’t interact with those that hold to different views in areas of  uncertainty and we miss out on what each member of the body of Christ has to offer to the body as a whole. Paul asked the church of Corinth this question.

1 Corinthians 1:10–13 (ESV) 10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

In this verse if we substitute, “I follow Paul”, for I follow Trump, or I follow Hillary, or I follow this platform, or I am for common core, or if you really want to be like Christ you will home-school;  aren’t we being just as divisive?

So, what am I saying? Just this – we need to learn to really listen to one another, not to hear, but to listen. We need to learn how to focus on the issues and not let the discussion devolve into ad hominem attacks on the person. We need to see, really see, to part the veil and get a glimpse of what is really being said by the other, the opposing viewpoint. Jesus was good at this. He would part the veil of a rich young ruler and answer the question he was really asking. Shouldn’t we attempt to do the same.

James said this to fellow believers in James 1:19–20 (ESV) “19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

What if the church became a place where we listened to one another, really listened?  Where we heard the heart of one another, where before we responded to them, we took the time to really understand what they were saying, and why they were saying it. Or, in other words, what if we were obedient to what the scriptures tells us, and we listened before we responded. Realizing that our anger is the evidence of a weak argument trying to show itself strong. What if the church is supposed to be filled with a variety of men and women who have differing opinions?  A church, who will not allow division, but rather growth using the freedom to come together under the authority of scripture and discuss issues with the goal of strengthening the body. What if Peter Meiderlin was right and we should have unity in the essentials, freedom in the uncertain, and love ruling over it all?  It seems that would be a more hospitable environment in which the church could flourish rather than the chorus of self-promotion as we clamor for the title of “the greatest.”

 

Who am I?

This morning, I was reminded of who I am NOT and I am so glad I was.

I recently started reading a book, again.  I did not start reading a new book again, I literally started reading a book again- as in, the same book I started months ago and never finished.  A book that I have had sitting next to my bed for about three months; a book that I read chapter one of, loved, and then set down again for so long I had to dust it off prior to opening it, which may be more of a commentary on my cleaning habits than my dedication to enjoying the written word.  The book is title I Am Not, but I know I Am by Louie Giglio, and it is quite good.
I made a commitment with myself to seek God in the morning, prior to beginning my day.  A commitment, if I am honest with you, I make about once a week and fail to follow through with because the house is cold in the morning, because the extra minutes I spend with my eyes closed buried in blankets after hitting the snooze alarm are some how more precious to my fleshy heart than much needed quiet time with the Almighty.
I don’t write this to sound self righteous or holy in any way.  In fact, I am personally convicted because I feel empty and dry many days simply because I have allowed my spiritual engine to run out of gas. I am no mechanic, but I know what happens to my car if I do not take the time to fill it up.  It runs out of steam, of go, of movement capability.  I too, without spiritual fuel, run out of steam, of go, of movement capability.  I lose the ability to see God’s plan and I begin to focus on the temporal, the small, the meaningless, the self.
So I made my grand plan, which I already confessed that I make once a week, and I announced it to my husband, the one who knows how much of a morning person I am NOT, and I went to bed .    I did not set an alarm, but with the help of a sick child, who caused just enough awareness in my subconscious, and the gained magic hour daylight savings time provided, I woke up about every two hours, which included 5:45 am.
Now at 5:45, I stayed up.  I took a shower and began to get ready for Monday, completely forgetting my appointment with God.  As I searched for my boots and warm sweater, I found the book.  The one mentioned above, the one I started and stopped and started again.  Suddenly, I remembered my grand plan, my empty gas tank, my dry bones and I stopped.  I read chapter two, and felt my empty tank fill.
My husband had told me Sunday night that if I seek God in the morning, I will find him.  I remembered this encouragement as I read chapter two.  The chapter about Who I am Not, about Moses, about the burning bush, about who my God is and what he is capable of and I found peace.

Psalm 5: 1-3
Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Consider my meditation.
Give heed to the voice of my cry,
My King and my God,
For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.

This morning I found such a sweet moment resting in the reality that I am not in control and the Great I Am is.  I am thankful for the sick child, the gained hour, the husband’s exhortation, the Psalmist’s example; all of the seemingly small human realities that I believe God used to encourage my divine appointment.  I am so glad that my God knows what I need and is willing to meet with me, willing to fill my spiritual tank and empower movement within my soul, again.

Now, I would like to report that this morning was so filling that I am in a good place, that I was ready to face the world and I met each situation today with zero frustration or desire for selfish gain, but I cannot.  I still struggled today.  I still found myself thinking things I ought not.  I still wrestled with the sinful, spiteful flesh that I wrestle with daily, but I was more prepared for the wrestling.

The reality is the sweet quiet moment of peace was there, part of my day, a part that I miss most mornings.  A part that I need every morning.  I hope that I will continue to seek God in the morning, that I will not let the comfort and warmth of my bed win out over the time of fellowship that waits with my maker.  I hope that tomorrow I will direct my praise to the Lord and that I will look up.

When God says No…

By:  Kathy Roberts
Instead of focusing on the No and ALL the why’s and the disappointment that lies within it, I long to change my mind to focus on the “Know” of God.
Not That He says No, but HE knows me-
HE knows what is best for me.
HE knows what HE’s  protecting me from.
HE knows what I can handle and what I can’t.
HE knows what will bring glory to HIS name and intimacy with The Lord of lords and King of Kings or what will stumble me back into my own fleshly selfishness .
He knows me from the inside out.
Why should I ask for something He knows is not best for me? Truly it’s because of His love for me and ALL mankind that He says NO…
HE KNOWS ALL.
HE KNOWS BEST-
He knows!!!
O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!
Psalm 139:1-6

The lie of Unforgiveness

By:  Kathy Roberts

‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. -Genesis 50:17-21

The sad truth of this life is that people hurt people. However, the awesome truth is God is able to overcome those hurts with His incredible healing power and give us victory over our circumstances; victory over deep unfair hurts that occur in this life or even casual annoyances. Even if it feels impossible to us, we can experience true freedom if we will trust Him and the power of His Holy Spirit to forgive as we have been forgiven. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Joseph was incredibly mistreated by his family and more, but through faith in God he had eyes to see past his circumstances to a greater good. “But what man intended for evil God meant for good”…will you believe that today? Our good, our families good, our friends good, for the good of those witnessing our forgiveness! All by faith in the power of God, not ourselves. Believe there is a STORY for the GLORY of God… with man it’s impossible but with God all things are possible! 

The enemy would have us believe true forgiveness is IMPOSSIBLE, it’s all a LIE, we can’t forgive, we can’t forget,  God can’t use it for good. 

Because I have believed this lie far too many times, I took a moment to jot down all the lies I have believed throughout my life. For me, searching the truth in my heart and then writing it out and facing the lies on paper helped me to recognize their true source, the father of lies.

Lies of Unforgiveness:

Unforgiveness will hurt them and not me.

Unforgiveness will bring me justice and satisfaction- I will teach them through cutting them out or through revenge.

Unforgiveness won’t affect my life I’ll move on someday.

Unforgiveness won’t affect others I love.

Unforgiveness won’t affect my relationships in the future.

Unforgiveness won’t affect my overall spiritual and physical health.

Unforgiveness is not necessary I can live with the hurt. 

Unforgiveness is not really a sin, I am justified. God understands.

Unforgiveness won’t hinder my prayer or intimacy with God.

I would often say to myself, “But they don’t deserve my forgiveness!”; and I was right. None of us DESERVE God’s forgiveness, it’s by the grace of God that we’ve been forgiven  and it is only by the grace of God we can forgive and be free of the LIE unforgiveness. Let us all choose the TRUTH! May we  walk in faith and in freedom; not shackled down by unforgiveness! 

It’s all imperative…

I recently messed up and hurt someone I care about.  Careless words tumbled out of my emotional mouth and caused pain.  Impatient with circumstances of life outside of my control and filled with self seeking pride, I felt it my duty to open my mouth in an effort to quickly insert my foot.  So I did, and can I just tell you my foot tasted terrible for about two days.

Whenever I find myself in this foot in mouth situation,  I first spend some time wallowing in self pity and loathing.  I usually like to follow that up with about 24 hours of silent justification. Silent justification is when I replay the entire situation over and over again mentally in an effort to collect reasons to  personally justify my aforementioned choices.  For the record: This time is never productive or healthy.  After I complete step 1 & 2 of this self assigned cycle, I begin to seek reconciliation.  Reconciliation is an act of humility and because of my pride,  it takes me awhile to move in this direction.

As we study James 5, I am encouraged by the idea of patience and the comparison God makes of this growth to a farmer’s harvest.

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen.You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!

James 5:  7-9

James’  reminds me that I am going to mess up.  I am going to hurt my fellow man.  I am going to have bad days and good days; days of learning and days of growing.  However, the reality of my imperfection does not give me license to disobey the commands I read in scripture.  As I closely read this passage I can see four imperative statements.  (Imperative simply means “giving an authoritative command”)

Imperative Commands/Statements found in James 5: 7-9:

  1.  Be patient with others and myself.
  2. Anticipate the Lord’s return.
  3. Have courage in Christ Jesus.
  4. Don’t grumble about your brother’s and sisters.

So here I am, disappointed in my choices and ready to experience the peace of reconciliation.  According to what I studied, I have to be patient with myself and others as I experience the growth process.  I need to live as though my Savior will return at any moment.  I need to act in courage because I belong to Christ and I need to lay down my desire to complain about others.

I actively lived out the imperatives.  I decided to be patient with my own growth and accept that I make mistakes. I refocused my mind and heart on my Savior’s return.  I took courage in the fact that my Lord and Savior is Jesus Christ and humbled myself in prayer.  I laid down my right to grumble about worldly frustrations and I went to my friend and said two simple words;  “I’m sorry.”

For the record:  Kind words are like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. Proverbs 16:24.  Plus, they taste much better than my foot.

Praying you have a blessed week while you experience the grace and peace of following the imperatives of Christ.

 

 

Side Note…

By:  Lazarth

So I was sitting in church like always, and Jackie was speaking on a spiritual truth that I have read 20 or 30 times. As my mind was slipping into auto pilot, and my voice was forming the words, “Amen”,   I received a slap in the face from the Holy Spirit; a slap that almost knocked me out of my chair.  Jackie’s words were simple.  There was no misunderstanding due to Greek interpretation.  He spent no extra time explaining the concept due to its simplicity, and yet the Holy spirit was telling me,  “Jason, you don’t understand.”  (Side note: This would be an awesome time for the voice of the Lord to speak to me explaining what I am not understanding; however, no further info was given. In fact, my mind was unusually blank.  Empty.   This may be hard to believe for those who know me, but the blank look on my face does not directly correlate to my mind being blank.

Here is what Jackie said that hit me square between the eyes.  James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”.  Before you shout amen, take a second to ponder this simple truth.  I, myself, spent two weeks turning this idea over and over in my mind.  First, I turned the sentence into two complete thoughts:   1.  God opposes the proud.  2. God gives grace to the humble.

I took the first thought and placed it in the center of my mind and cleared everything else out. I began by asking some questions.  What does opposition from God look like? The thought scared me a little.  When I have faced oppositions in my past, I have always felt a sense of hope that I would find an answer to the dilemma. Opposition:  I was born with a learning disability.   Answer: Study harder. Opposition:  Chris Simons, the high school quarterback who always seemed to make the starting team, was better than me.  Answer: Practice longer, run faster and when you hit him try to knock him out of his shoes. Opposition:  Money problems.   Answer: Work more or find a new job. Even death can be overcome when you have the right friends, namely Jesus.  However,  God is an obstacle in which there is no hope of overcoming. The Bible verse says:  If God is for me, what  can stand against me? But think of the opposite: If God is against me, what can stop him. I became afraid. mostly because I knew if the Holy Spirit wanted to talk to me about this topic He was addressing my PRIDE.

I started thinking about my personal life and asked the question: How would God’s opposition manifest itself in my daily routine? I imagined fire balls coming from heaven sent to consume me.  Large swarms of locus sent to consume me. Angels with giant swords sent to consume me.  The fires of hell sent to consume me…  All bad outcomes and I guess I am not that imaginative because all I could think of was CONSUMING. In my defense, I was rather hungry at the time, and truth be told, none of those things were happening. Everything is actually going quite well.  I have a great wife and kids. I love my job and I have good friends. No one is sick or in need in my immediate family. Life is good.

Next, I began to consider the characters in the Bible and I realized its usually the ones God loves who seem to get the raw deals. I know God loved Jesus and he suffered.  Then it hit me. The Pharisees were proud and life on the outside looked good for them; however,  Jesus was in opposition with them. How was God’s opposition manifested in their lives? They couldn’t see who Jesus was when He was standing right in front of them.  Even though they saw Him do miracles, their pride stopped them from knowing God and His will.

My pride has stopped me from seeing so many awesome things God is doing and frankly I don’t want to miss any more.  If I stop drawing near to my selfish pride and draw near to God verse eight in chapter four of James says he will draw near to me. What a gift. Then God will give grace. Grace to know Jesus when he is standing in front of you and me.  Grace to see his plan in our lives. Grace to allow us to be part of that awesome plan and grace to be counted as His children.   I know we throw the words amazing grace around all the time, but there is no other word I can think of that describes His grace better than amazing.

Earlier I asked the question:  “If God is against me, who could stop him?” The answer, only God himself.  It’s only God’s mercy that is stronger than God’s opposition and the crazy part is I can invoke God’s mercy through my humility by belief in Christ Jesus.

Life is too short not to see Christ, and his plan for our lives.   Let us take pride out of the church. There is no place for it. Let’s take pride out of our hearts as well.  Jesus doesn’t like to share.

Side note: Getting right with God when the Holy Spirit slaps you is easier then you might think.

step 1:                Cry.

step 2:                Get on knees.

step 3:                  Repeat step 1.

step  4:                 Repent.

step  5:                 Repeat step 1.

step 6:                  Be healed.

step  7:                 Repeat step 1, with thanksgiving this time.

step  8:                 Get up and keep following Jesus!

step 9:                   Repeat as needed

 

Thank you God for all you have done for me a sinner. Praise God for His mercy endures forever……….

Still true today…

As I woke up Monday morning to the news of the tragedy in Las Vegas, I  felt a sense of hopelessness and a weight of despair for both our nation and our world.  Words cannot express the heaviness of my heart in the wake of this tragedy, so I will not try to explain the weight, as I know you feel it too.

Instead, I will do the only thing a believer can do when faced with the reality of the wickedness found in the dark places of man’s heart.  I will speak the truth of God’s word over the circumstances of this world.  I will lean deeply into the scriptures that breathe life into my brokenness.  I will not politicize the situation and try to solve what I know is the depths of sin and the depravity of man, which can only be resolved through belief in Christ Jesus.  I will repent, personally.  I will pray.  I will grieve my own sin and stand in the gap as one who knows there is so much more to life than what I see with my temporal eyes.  I will not believe the lie that I am made for wrath and I will experience the great peace that passes my human understanding as I lean into the promises of my maker and thank Him for His presence and His truth.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 says…

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Love and truth are absolutes, they cannot be authentically communicated outside of their defined purposes and apart from their divine creator.  You see, the truth is God is love. Truth cannot be spoken apart from Him who made life and love cannot be experienced without the author and perfecter of our faith.

So here is the truth…

Love is first patient then kind. Patient with the poor, “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.  Patient with the addict who once again finds himself backsliding and broken.  Patient with the child who should have known better and the spouse who could have done more.  Patient with the lost, the nonbeliever, the angry, the hurting.

Love is also kind.  Kind to the stranger in this land, to the person from the other political party, to the one you disagree with online.  Kind to those who persecute you and kind to those who choose to be unkind themselves.

Love cannot be jealous, boastful, proud or rude.  Love doesn’t demand its own way or become irritable.  Love will not hold a grudge, which means love forgives continually.

Love will never rejoice in injustice; but will always find great joy when truth overcomes.  Love won’t quit or give up and it will never lose faith.  Love is hopeful always, no matter what and will endure every circumstance, even the dark moments filled with despair.

So if God is love, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  (1 John 4: 7-8)

In the wake of this tidal wave of tragedy, the feelings of despair and hopelessness threaten to swallow me whole; however, my spirit fights back with love.  A complete and perfect love from God.  A love that doesn’t excuse wrongdoing, but also doesn’t seek revenge.  A love that prays for my enemies and those who persecute me, while asking God to soften hearts and heal brokenness.  A love that mourns with those who mourn; while still having hope that God is bigger and has good plans for His people, plans for a future and a hope.

 

Today, I found that much needed hope on the pages of an American public school textbook.  Words from 1967 spoken by Baptist Minister Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  seemed both poignant and appropriate for this turbulent time.

“As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough… I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking….Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?…I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.  This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

Please pray. Pray today for all who are hurting because of this tragedy, for wisdom to fill the minds of our leaders as they face the aftermath, for hearts to see the broken, the lost, the quiet who suffer, for courage to stand up for those who need it and love to speak truth even when we are angry and hurting.  Pray for revival to start here and now in our homes and our community.  Pray for truth to win and for injustice to end.  Pray for hands that share and for hearts that give.  Please pray.

“Oh God forgive us.”

“You’ve been assigned!”

For the record, I am not the best math student. By not the best math student I mean that I failed Algebra three times in high school.  I know it is an embarrassing and slightly ironic confession coming from a high school English teacher, but it’s true.  I was, and still am, broken mathematically.  I use my fingers to count, I struggle with fractions, seven times eight will forever give me problems, and square roots still cause me a bit of anxiety.

I remember very vividly retaking and failing Algebra my sophomore year, not only because I sat behind my future husband, who I was secretly in love with, which is an entirely different story; but because it solidified my adolescent belief that math and I would never be friends.   You see, I was an honors student with a poor work ethic; all the ability and none of the drive.  So there I was, a failure at the one thing I was suppose to be good at.  The thing that always came easy, school, was now another testament to my averageness.  Yes, I know averageness is not a real word, but you get the point.

Everyday, second hour, in Ms. Erickson’s class, the assignment  read something like this:  Please turn to page 432 and complete 1-30 odd.  Remember to show all your work.

I hated those assignments.  In fact, it would take me another year and a half of failure, before I would realize the importance of those assignments and more specifically the value of the words:  Show all your work.  You see, the practice made permanent the lesson my teacher wanted me to learn.  The practice, the work, was the secret to understanding.  The assignment had more value than I knew and my participation was vital to my future growth.

Fast forward to senior year, I found myself sitting center stage in a predominately freshmen filled Algebra class.  My teacher, Ms. Boykin, was my OBI-WAN, my only hope.  Graduation was on the line and Algebra would no longer come between me and my academic success.  The sudden sense of urgency pushed me to change and I did every assignment as well as retook every quiz/test I failed.  I struggled and grappled with equations and expressions until math and I were not friends, but at least polite acquaintances.  I did not accept less than a C on any assignment and I earned a B-, 80% to be precise, in the course.  The secret to learning turned out to be thoroughly completing every assignment.  To accept the assignment with hope, was to not expect failure.   I began to understand that easy was empty, and the work was well worth the cost.

Last week at the CCB Women’s Retreat, the speaker, Debbie Bryson reminded me that I’ve been assigned.  You see, God has assigned me certain people in my life, and He has assigned you certain people in your life.  Assigned, meaning we didn’t all meet happenstance, but rather that we have been precisely placed by the maker of the universe to know certain people; to live and work in close proximity, to be family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, offspring, siblings, etc.  Before the foundations of the Earth, our God saw fit to not only create us, love us, save us; but also to assign us.

The assignment reads something like this:  “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  Ephesians 2: 8-10  

Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that our works do not save us, but they bring a fullness to the life God planned for us.  Unlike my Algebra homework, these assignments are not about passing and failing, but about growing and finding an abundant life in this troubled world that we can never find apart from God and His plan for us.  When we as believers submit to the plan God’s made for us, we learn that easy is empty and the lessons are all about accepting the assignments.

Paul himself experienced God’s “good works He planned for us long ago”.  Paul, the man who would suffer prison sentences, ship wrecks, snakebites, public humiliation, loneliness, isolation, doubt, loss, and the like; believed all of these trials were nothing in comparison to a life lived for God.  You see, these trials allowed for Paul to witness to prison guards and speak before giant crowds; to travel to far off places while writing letters that would reach the world for thousands of years.   God’s plan reaches so far past our comfort and our personal gain.  As we follow our maker, the practice makes permanent the lesson our teacher wants us to learn.  The practice, the work, is the secret to understanding.  The assignment has more value than we know and our participation is vital to our future growth.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”  – Paul  (2 Corinthians 13:11)

 

Dandelions: Flowers or Weeds?

Last spring I was walking with my youngest daughter past a sports field on the school campus where I teach. It had been a particularly long day at work and I was just tired, tired of everything: the wind spring brings, the temperature that felt too cold for the season, the coats we were still wearing from November, the homework that needed to be graded, the waking up to an alarm every morning, the staff meetings, the computer screens, the backpacks, the laundry list of it all.  Basically, responsibility of any kind felt like a weight around my neck.  My yoke did not feel easy and my burdens were not light.  My full life, and all the expectation in it, had me feeling a bit down and in that moment, feeling sorry for myself felt not only appropriate, but necessary.   

Thankfully, my silent pity party was interrupted by the voice of my little girl.  She looked at the same field I was looking at and declared that is was a garden; a garden filled with a thousand yellow flowers.  I looked up and saw nothing but grass that needed mowing and a ridiculous amount of dandelions.  Immediately upon her declaration, she dropped her backpack, ran out into the field and started picking flowers.  Where I saw weeds, she saw beauty.  Where I saw another unmet expectation, she saw opportunity.  Where I saw another thing to complain about, she saw something to be grateful for.

The truth is gratitude changes everything.  In Philippians  4, Paul writes:  “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

If I am honest, I struggle to practice an attitude of gratitude.  When I look at the big picture that is life I am easily overwhelmed and have a hard time finding thankfulness in my heart.  You see, I can fake it.  I can look thankful and act grateful; however, God knows my heart and He knows that in the secret and quiet places I am neither.  This lack of thankfulness, this sin, quietly robs me of the joy of the Lord. I’ve learned through trial and error that faking it is exhausting.  Suffering silently is not what I am made for.  I am made for freedom through repentance.  So I repent.  I repent of my ungrateful heart.  My heart that can’t see the gift in the small things and the miracle in the big.  My heart that screams I want it my way. My heart that sees weeds, when I should see flowers.   

The truth is in this crazy world filled with exhausting expectations, God gives us a recipe for peace and joy in Philippians 4.  He says if we will rejoice in Him, tell Him our needs through prayer, and thank Him for all He has done in our lives, His peace will protect both our hearts and minds. Even though I have not mastered the art of thankfulness in all things and I still have exhausting days;  I am learning to move quicker towards gratitude in Christ and I am experiencing His peace more often in my life. I am learning to think small about all the gifts He gives each day, to cultivate a perspective that sees a garden where the world sees weeds.  Developing a perspective of peace through a relationship with Christ may take a lifetime, but His way is so much better than mine.