Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Quick Update

Very good news, everyone… apparently my injuries are not as severe as the doctor first thought. I will NOT have to have surgery after all!!! While the knee is not in great shape with severe arthritis and several ligament tears, the damage can be managed with therapy. The doctor switched me to a flexible knee brace and I begin therapy next week. What a wonderful relief. The Lord did some major healing during the past week. I can barely believe the difference.

Thanks to the many of you who prayed for me. Hopefully in 6 weeks' time, I will be back to normal.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Snow Fall (literally: A Fall in the Snow)

It was a snow for the record books. Measurable snow is rare enough in Maryland, but especially so in December. My daughter measured 23" as the last flakes fell. We were all thrilled and eagerly looked forward to a rare white Christmas.

The morning after the storm, I rose early to walk the dog. She had missed her walk the day before, because the roads were impassible. Now in the early morning light, Sasha and I managed to get down to the end of the driveway due to a heroic shoveling effort on Steve's part. Several cars had already navigated the road and there was a trail of packed snow to walk on. Sasha and I picked our way carefully down the street.

It was not an easy walk, but the dog seemed very relieved to be out and about. My gaze barely left the ground at the beginning. I soon became more confident as we got further and further from home. The air crackled with cold and smelled of snow. Everything in sight wore a covering of white. It was a beautiful morning.

As we neared the end of the park, suddenly my front foot began to slide. I struggled to remain upright to no avail. Down I went, in a less than ladylike manner, one leg straight out front, the other bent beneath me. As I slid toward the ground, I heard a *pop*pop*pop*pop* coming from my bent knee. I knew I had done some serious damage if the roaring pain was any indication. There I lay in the middle of the snowy road, immobilized. The dog, being the sensitive soul that she is (ha!) ran in circles around me, urging me to get up so that we could continue our walk.

This was not the first time I had injured my knee. After a series of injuries in my high school and college days, I had corrective surgery in 1983 to tighten ligaments and repair the damage to my kneecap. The therapy was excruciatingly difficult, especially working to get the bend back after being straight-legged in a cast for six weeks. Then we learned I was expecting Daniel. As the weeks wore on and Daniel's impending arrival became more and more evident, I ended up giving up on therapy a bit earlier than advisable. I never did get full bend back in the knee, although I was walking normally once more.

So the same knee bent under me in the fall had not actually been fully bent since 1983. Now as I lay in the snow, I was unsure that I could walk. Yet the prospect of continuing to lay in the freezing cold on the deserted road held little allure. It took some effort, but I managed to get myself into a standing position. Gingerly, I shifted my weight onto the bad leg. It held. I began the long hobble home.

After a laborious trip including two other-doggie sightings (at which Sasha demonstrated her usual frenzied reaction), we rounded the corner and sighted our house. Home never looked so good. Steve was still shoveling, so I called to him for assistance. He rushed to help me up the hill and into the house.

I made it to the couch and did not move for the rest of the day.

By Monday night, my lack of progress and continuing pain convinced me to see a doctor. He had me try to lift my leg. I could not make it move at all. It appears the tendon which attaches the quadriceps muscle to the kneecap is ruptured. He sent me for an MRI, and we have a second appointment on Tuesday to discuss surgery options. It is looking to be a long January.

So we had an unusual Christmas this year. I sat in the recliner, barking out orders in queenly fashion. My boys manned the kitchen and provided an excellent breakfast brunch for all of us. The whole family gathered around the tree and exchanged laughter, fun, and wonderful gifts.

I am learning how to accept being served. Harder than it sounds for this mom! My best friend Beth came over on Christmas Eve to vacuum and dust while the rest of the household was at church. Steve has faithfully made meal after meal and has served me without complaint. Each of my kids has run little errands for me, becoming my feet, traveling up and down the stairs and even out to the grocery store. I am eternally grateful for the sacrificial love they have all shown me over the past week. Even though I get frustrated with my lack of ability to do ANYTHING, my cup runneth over.

If you have made it this far on this lengthy and overly detailed account, thank you for your patience!! I'll update this blog when I meet with the doctor on Tuesday.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Faithful in the Least Things

D.L. Moody once said, "There are many of us willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things." We tend to evaluate responsibilities in terms of importance and prioritize accordingly. But the reality is we will spend most of our lives doing what we probably would deem "unimportant."

These tasks may seem unimportant to us, yet I wonder if that is how God views them. Certainly Scripture does not put importance on one kind of service over another. For example, when Paul wrote about the spiritual gifts, he is careful to point out that no gift is more important than another. Every member of the body of Christ is essential. Jesus taught that in the kingdom, the last will be first, and the first, last. These two concepts apply to acts of service as well.

Colossians 3:17 urges us to consider every action as something to be done in service for God. "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus..." From scrubbing a toilet to teaching a Bible study, God invites us to serve Him with our efforts.

It is not easy to keep a servant's heart in the day to day routine. Yet our faithfulness in the mundane is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate obedience. Our determination to live each moment as an opportunity to serve God will be a light to those living in the darkness.

Arthur Stace, from Sydney, Australia, was that kind of faithful. After living a corrupt life in the streets as a drunk and a criminal, in 1930 he gave his life to Jesus Christ at a church mission. Two years later, he heard a sermon that captured his imagination and passion with a single word: Eternity.

The Lord put it on Arthur's heart to write "Eternity" all over the city of Sydney. Each morning, he would be up before dawn, wandering though the streets. Every 100 yards or so, he would stoop down and write "eternity" in copperplate script with a crayon. Year after year, Arthur was faithful to spread his simple message. He wrote it an estimated half-million times! Thirty-three years after his death, that word remained an inspiration to Australians.

On December 31, 1999, the eyes of the world were on Sydney via satellite television as the first major city entered the new millennium. As the countdown ended, fireworks erupted over the harbor. There on the bridge, the word "Eternity" was lit up in copperplate script for the world to see! One little man had a huge impact by remaining faithful at the simple task God had given him to do.

Our dedication to God will be revealed in how we deal with the small things we are called to do. J. Gregory Mantle, a preacher in the 1800's, once wrote: "It is far harder to live for Christ moment by moment than it is to die once for Him; and if we wait for great occasions in which to display our fidelity, we shall find that our life has slipped away, and with it the opportunities that each hour has brought of proving our love to the Lord, by being faithful in that which is least."

We live around people who are living in darkness. God has called us to be light. Doing the "unimportant" things with a happy heart and a servant's attitude will speak volumes to those who are watching. "You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world . . . Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven." Matthew 5: 13-16

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Go Ahead and Pray for Patience

Have you ever heard or even said yourself: "Don't pray for patience. God might give it to you." In all honesty, I sometimes qualify my prayers. I don't want God to disrupt my life with pain or trouble. So I carefully pray not only for a blessing, but how specifically I want it accomplished. Essentially, I struggle to trust God to do the best thing for me. I am underestimating the goodness of God.

Jesus knew this was a human tendency. So after telling his disciples to ask, seek, and knock in their prayers, he reminded them of God's goodness and desire to give good to His children. "What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish; he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?" (Matthew 7:9-11) God delights in doing good things for His children, because He is good.

A friend of mine committed herself into a mental health facility very recently. She was struggling with suicidal thoughts and feared herself capable of doing bodily harm. Her doctor urged her to put herself into a safe environment. It has been over a year since she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This is a woman with a true heart for God. Even now, while presently in excruciating emotional distress, she has determinedly placed herself into God's capable hands, waiting for Him to use her illness for His glory. No medications as yet have stemmed the wild up and down emotional roller coaster she is on. She continues to wait.

It is so hard to watch someone you love suffer. In my prayers for her, I instruct God on how He should act. It is time for the suffering to end, I inform Him. She's been through enough. Once again, I am doubting the goodness of God.

A God who is good will only do good for us. But it is challenging to believe in that goodness in light of the suffering and terrible things that happen to those that love the Lord. How can these things be good?

Maybe we need to rethink our definition of good.

A psalm writer named Asaph found it necessary to do just that. At the beginning of Psalm 73, Asaph perceives good as health, wealth, and security. Therefore his faith in the goodness of God falters as he sees the wicked flourish while godly people struggle. Then, in the middle of the psalm, Asaph has a eureka moment. His conflict abruptly comes to an end when he enters God's presence. "Then I perceived their end," he confesses.

Until the middle of the psalm, Asaph thought of goodness in very external terms, as many of us do. But as he comes face to face with God, he understands he has missed the truth. God's goodness must be viewed within the reality of eternity.

God is all about His relationship with us. His desire is to draw us into a close, intimate bond. One way He does this is through trials and various struggles, because prosperity breeds independence. The success of the wicked had actually hardened their hearts toward God. They had become proud and arrogant. This independence would cost them a great deal, especially in light of eternity.

In the end, Asaph finally concludes the struggle has brought him good. "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever... the nearness of God is my good." Asaph has redefined good at the end of his psalm. It no longer means health and wealth. He now understands that intimacy with God is the greatest good, and it is this God has in mind for His people.

To understand the goodness of God, we must look beyond ourselves and view reality as our eternal God does. Elisabeth Elliot put it this way: "He makes us wait. He keeps us on purpose in the dark. He makes us walk when we want to run, sit still when we want to walk, for He has things to do in our souls that we are not interested in." Whether we know it or not, the best thing (the greatest good) is to be in a close relationship with Him. God sometimes chooses to accomplish this through the struggle.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Perplexing Book

My latest project involves a study of the conversations between Jesus and women. Many of these conversations at first glance seem odd at best. Why would Jesus compare a desperate mother begging his help to a dog under the table? Why did he force the woman with the issue of bleeding to admit her illness before a large crowd—an illness that made her unclean to the rest of society? Why did he act in such seemingly insensitive ways toward these and others?

In my research I have been blown away by what I have found. To examine the culture and historical background of the first century as well as scriptural context brings a whole new light on what at first perplexes the reader. I am excited about what I have discovered. But it took a lot of work and a whole lot of thinking!

My seminary professor, Ken Quick, likens the gems we can find when we dig deep into scripture to the best cookies, located in the kitchen pantry. “Reading through scripture at a cursory level gives a certain level of knowledge and understanding,” he said. “This reward is like Lorna Doone shortbread cookies, available on the shelf at eye level and easiest to find. But if you want the chocolate macadamia nut cookies, the really good stuff, it’s not an easy reach. You must grapple with scripture to glean the deepest truths. The best cookies are located on the highest shelf. But the richness of your reward is worth the struggle.”

The Bible is not an easy book. I’ve often wondered why God sent it to us as he did. Why are those verses about restricting women in church there? Do they still apply to today? What about divorce? Is adultery the only clause that frees a person to leave a marriage? Theological controversies have rocked the church over the centuries as scholars have attempted to interpret the Bible correctly. For example, there are verses that imply free will and a choice in salvation while others describe predestination and election. How can both be true?

Why is the Bible so hard to understand?

We wonder why God did not make the Bible a simple list of do’s and don’ts, as well as list a systematic theology that would leave no room for questions or controversy. However, a look at Hebrews 5:14 sheds light on why the Bible is not so easy to interpret. “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” The mature man, by this author’s description, is a thinking man, who has gone beyond simplistic black and white answers to thoughtful and wise discernment.

Pavlov’s dogs learned to salivate at the sound of a bell. A baby learns that if he reaches for the hot stove, he will get his hand slapped. So he keeps his hands to himself. While these behaviors are appropriate responses to the environment, they are not signs of a mature mind. Until a person can learn to discern or think, he will not be able to make choices in life that will allow for his survival. We need the ability to think, discern, and apply the truth we know to any situation.

The same is true in our spiritual walk. It is God’s desire for us to move beyond simple black and white pat answers to wise discernment. So he gave us the Bible, sometimes complicated and challenging-- by design. Elisabeth Elliot observes, “He did not spare us. He wants us to reach maturity. He has so arranged things that if we are to go on beyond the “milk diet” we shall be forced to think.”

His goal is to ultimately shape us into the likeness of his Son, who is the flesh and blood expression of God. He desires his children to bear a family resemblance. Our struggle with the Word of God is a means toward that end. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Paul wrote the Romans. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Simple Woman's Daybook, October 5, 2009

Outside my window...the cool of autumn has arrived. I love autumn. So much, in fact, that we decided to go with autumn colors for our new living and dining room!

I am thankful for...home. I have been away all this week with the exception of one day. First I traveled up to Camp Berea in NH to spend a few days with my very dear friend, Nancy. One of those people who can finish my sentences. It was a sweet time of fellowship, staying at my new friend Barb's lakeside cabin. Once I got home, I had about 24 hours to prepare for a retreat with my home church, for which I was speaking. After another wonderful weekend, we finally arrived home Sunday afternoon. I'm so happy to be sleeping in my own bed again.

I am thinking...God is so faithful. I loved my time of sharing with my church sisters on the seasons of our relationship with God. We had such great discussion and open and honest sharing. God met us where we were, as He always does.

From the kitchen...today I will grocery shop for the first time in weeks. Mel and I are starting Weight Watchers again, so we need to load up on vegetables and fruit. 20 lbs. by Christmas??

I am creating...or recreating a whole new chapter in my book this week. I was stumped on how to progress and my former professor Jon Master gave me the direction I needed. The chapter is actually written, but I am redoing it this week according to his advice. I can hardly wait to get going. Between the redecorating and travel, I've barely written at all this month.

I am going...to stay home this week and WRITE.

I am reading...The Liberty in Obedience by Elisabeth Elliot.

I am hoping...to begin to hear from some publishers that are reviewing my two manuscripts soon.

Around the house...we have a leak in our plumbing under the kitchen sink. Steve can't find it. The contents of that cabinet are now spread out all over the kitchen floor. Augghhh!!

One of my favorite things...seeing the leaves change. I miss New England colors, but enjoy the fall here in Maryland to be sure.

A few plans for the rest of the week: write, write, write!! I am also getting ready to teach a new Bible study for women from my church on Monday nights. I'm excited about that, especially in light of the fellowship we enjoyed together over this past weekend!! I also plan to go back to Curves after a month-long absence. Time to start working on those pounds I gained while sitting and studying in seminary!

Hope your Monday is awesome!

Want to join in on Simple Woman's Daybook? Here is the site: http://thesimplewomansdaybook.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Ineffective Conduit

For the ten years we have lived in our house, the smallest upstairs bedroom has been without heat or air conditioning. We could hear the rush of air in the vent when the blower turned on but could feel no air moving. Several years ago, after many complaints from my daughter who occupies the room, my husband lowered a flashlight and mirror down into the vent to search for whatever blocked the air flow. The light revealed a clear passageway. We were stumped.

This week, because our living room is already torn apart due to renovations, we decided now was the time to tackle the vent issue for once and for all. Steve made a small hole in the living room ceiling directly under the vent to Melanie's room. He was searching for the point where the vent connected to the main trunk line. He cleverly inserted a weighted string down into the vent and lowered it until it hit bottom. Judging from the amount of string which had disappeared, we now knew the vent's connection to the trunk line was below the living room wall, down in the basement. Steve went down to eventually discover cold air pouring out of a hole in the trunk line. Evidently, Melanie's vent had some time ago gotten disconnected and now hung uselessly above the opening. The vent no longer served as a conduit because the connection to the trunk line no longer existed.

Being a conduit means carrying something from one point to another. Electrical wire delivers electricity from an outlet to a lamp. However, if the connection is broken, the wire can no longer carry electrons to their destination. Only when there is a complete circuit can the wire serve as an effective channel.

God intended the nation of Israel to be a conduit of His blessing and a light to the nations. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses urges the people to hold fast to the Lord, carefully keeping His statutes and judgments. "For that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?"

As Deuteronomy unfolds, God indicates Israel will fail at their calling. A successful military campaign and resulting prosperity would soon make them feel self-sufficient. "Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt." (Deut. 8:14) But there are preventative actions that could alleviate the problem: "Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul... So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer." (Deut. 10:12, 16)

In order to be an effective channel, Israel needed to hold fast to the Lord. They needed to love Him with all of their heart. Their service and obedience must be a natural outflow from a carefully nurtured and loving relationship between them and God. Unfortunately, they did not heed the warning.

Many years later, Paul wrote the Romans about the failure of Israel to be a vehicle to make God known to the nations. "They did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works." They operated under their own strength, trying to obey the law while neglecting the relationship with the Law-giver. It was an effort doomed to failure.

The present kingdom that Christ built is comprised of individuals who have determined to follow Him. "You are the light of the world," Jesus charged His followers. Much like the ancient Israelites, we too have been called to carry a message. Our lives, words, and actions should convey the good news of the gospel to the 21st century.

Along with the common responsibility of being God's conduit to the lost, we also face the same danger ancient Israel faced. "Apart from me you can do nothing," Jesus warned his disciples. When we move away from our source of grace and love, our actions become self-serving, intolerant, and self-righteous. Like a vent that carries the sound of air conditioning yet fails to actually bring the cooling air to its destination, we expose the letter of the Law without revealing God's grace and love. We are ineffective conduits when our own connection is non-existent.

My handy husband was able to fix our little vent issue in about an hour. My daughter Melanie happily reports that her room is now wonderfully cool and comfortable. A conduit works infinitely better when it is connected to the source! Only when our lives reflect a living, vibrant relationship with God can we be effective in conveying His love to others.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

One Powerful God

Some of you may be old enough to remember the very first Indiana Jones movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark. One of my favorite scenes is when, in a street market place, Indiana is confronted by a murderous Arab wielding a saber. At first it looks bad for our hero, who stands seemingly bewildered at the threatening way the enemy slices the air with his sword. Then suddenly, in a surprise move, Indiana simply pulls a gun from the waistband of his pants and shoots the Arab dead. Confrontation over.

The whole scene reminds me a little of the power of God as displayed in Revelation 19. At the end of time, rulers from all over the earth join forces under the unifying power of the antichrist and assemble on the battlefield of Armageddon. Numbering in the millions, they have come prepared to conquer the remaining opposition, men and equipment at the ready. Things look grim for the good guys until the heavens open and the rider on the white horse appears: Jesus Christ. He decisively deals with the evil empire, capturing the antichrist and slaughtering the assembled armies with one swift blow. In the end, it looks more like an execution than a battle scene.

“He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth,” the psalmist writes in Psalm 46, “He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.” No earthly ruler or even the greatest of armies will ever be a match for the power of God.

Yet this omnipotent God, who can blow away the mightiest forces with a breath, also makes it His business to know the number of hairs on my head. David’s Psalm 139 delights in God’s careful knowledge of us: “You are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.”

It is hard to align such opposing traits in one person. God’s great power and sovereignty exist alongside His tender care and intimacy. There is such paradox within the character of God.

The picture featured above was taken during John F. Kennedy’s presidential term. He was one of the most powerful men in the world at the time, and decisions he made kept the world from nuclear war. Yet the same man who stared down Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis was known only as “Daddy” to little John, Jr. Power and intimacy coexisted in one man.

In the same way, the God who created the universe and sets the world’s rulers on their thrones is known as “Abba” to us. Daddy. Like little John, we can play at our Father’s feet even as He holds the universe together. While the breadth of His power is unimaginable, we are still important to Him.

“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold…Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings.” Psalm 17:8, 18:1-2

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lessons from Weeding

We had neglected the garden. In one short month, weeds were growing waist-high. They were overtaking the annuals I had so carefully planted and fertilized during the cooler spring months. During the “dog days” of summer, gardening is a hot, sticky proposition. In the previous weeks, the July sun beat down mercilessly, and staying in the cool house was too great a temptation to resist. Now the weeds were winning the battle.

As my husband and I went outside to work in the early morning temperatures, I surveyed with dismay the damage that had been done during my absence from the garden. Every spare space once neatly groomed blossomed with overgrown weeds. My beautiful flowers were struggling to survive sharing space with their greedy neighbors. Without sweat and effort, it would only get worse. As I began to grip the weeds one at a time and pull, God began to reveal truths about the weeds in my own life, and suddenly the work became a spiritual inspiration.

Jesus used a gardening theme in several of his parables to teach those gathered around him about the Kingdom of God. This was in part because it was an agrarian society, and planting and harvesting were familiar to everyone. But as I pulled weeds and meditated on God’s Word, it struck me that Jesus must also must have used plants as an object lesson because they are so appropriate to what is true about the rest of his creation.

Weeds are the undesirable part of the garden. In parables, weeds or thorns were used to represent sin or the work of the evil one. We can learn a lot about sin by taking a closer look at weeds.

Dig deep.
In order to permanently remove the weed, we must remove the root. Dandelion plants have a long taproot, which is thick and difficult to pull. If you just pull off the foliage at the surface, that dandelion will have new leaves in a matter of days. We have solid and strong roots in sin, because we were born with a sin nature. Our only source of victory over sin is through the blood of Jesus Christ. When we trusted in him for salvation, Jesus went right to the root of our sin problem and changed us from the inside out: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
(I Corinthians 5: 17)

Be proactive.
Keeping weeds out of your garden is a matter of being deliberate. Do nothing to stop them, and they will grow. When it comes to our spiritual lives, because of our sinful nature, it is a constant battle to avoid sin. Like a swimmer in a current, we only make progress or even keep a steady position by working tirelessly. Relax for a few minutes, and we will quickly lose ground. Paul commented on this: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17) In this constant conflict, we can never ease up, or sin will get the upper hand.

Weed early and often.
When weeds are small, they are relatively easy to pluck from the ground. However, when allowed to remain, long, strong roots grow deep. Pulling out a mature plant becomes a major challenge. So it is with sin. Carelessness becomes pattern, and pattern a habit. Soon the sin has a hold on us, and the effort to repent and replace that bad habit with a righteous one becomes extremely difficult. This is demonstrated in James 1:15:
“ . . . after desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Better to stop the sin early on, when it is easier to remove from our lives.

Plant purposefully.
The best way to keep weeds from flourishing is to plant something desirable in the space. Bare soil and even a layer of mulch will not stop most weeds from taking root. However, where my annuals and perennials are flourishing, weeds have little opportunity to thrive. Making the effort to fill our minds with good things will keep sin at bay. Meditating on God’s Word is the best place to start. I often play praise music in my car as I travel, singing words that focus on Christ. Psalm 119: 11 says, “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Weeding is hard work, especially in the hot summer sun. It involves sweat, aching muscles, back strain and even blisters. Yet the end result of that labor is beauty. My plants are once again healthy and thriving, freed from competition for sunlight and water.

Dealing with the ugly sin in our lives is also hard and grueling work. We must be willing to take an honest look at ourselves frequently to see the sin lurking in our attitudes and actions. It is never a pleasant process! Yet bringing sin out into the light, confessing it to God and turning away from its control on us will bring a new beauty to our lives.

Living a sin-resistant life is only possible because of our heavenly power source. We humans are weak and prone to give in. Yet “incomparably great power” from God is at our disposal. “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” (Ephesians 1:19-20)

I Corinthians 3 tells us that we are “God’s cultivated field.” With purposeful effort we can keep back the weeds of sin in our lives. Then we will be a beautiful garden, a “planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Not a Competition

"I always assumed God called me to be the best," a young music major confessed to me the other day over lunch. "So I struggled with the pressure of comparing myself to other musicians around me, always finding ways they were better than me. It was so discouraging. Then one day a more seasoned musician helped release me from that pressure. He told me God has not called me to be the best. He calls me to be the best I can be."

Do you struggle with comparing yourself with others around you? Is your ministry diminished in your mind when you view the comparative success of others? I have to confess, this is a real weakness of mine. So I found the insight of this young guy a refreshing reminder to guard my own heart.

Paul gave the Colossians a bit of instruction that should ring true in all of our efforts. "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men... it is the Lord Christ whom you serve." We are called to excellence. We are called to give it everything we've got. But we are not called to the top of the heap. Serving God is not a competition.

That last statement may seem almost silly, it is so obvious. Yet it's not always so obvious to me. For instance, as a writer, it is hard not to become discouraged and even jealous upon seeing an announcement of someone's new book release. The comparison immediately begins. What do they have that I have not? Why is God blessing them and not me?

The Corinthians faced a similar struggle. Some of the spiritual gifts in the church were viewed as more important than others. A hierarchy of prestige had developed. Those who spoke in tongues were viewed as more "spiritual" than the rest. Paul was quick to address this attitude. Spiritual gifts are not given for self-edification. "Seek to abound for the edification of the church," Paul cautioned "so that all may learn and all may be exhorted." (1 Corinthians 14:12, 31) The spiritual gifts are not about us.

We must take steps to guard our hearts against allowing our efforts to serve the Lord to become about us. First, we need to constantly remember that the effectiveness of our ministry is not dependent on how good we are at what we do. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, "Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow" (1 Corinthians 3:7). Our power source is God alone. Second, we must acknowledge that our gift is given with a specific purpose. That purpose: to build up the church. "Now to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7). Third, never forget our spiritual gifts are GIFTS. Our specific talents were carefully doled out in the wisdom and grace of God. We cannot take credit for our talent! "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). Last, recognize that each member of the church is only meant to be one part of an interdependently functioning body. This means that no one part is more important than the other. As Paul wrote, "But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but its parts should have equal concern for each other" (1 Corinthians 12:24, 25).

Seeking self-gratification while operating within God's kingdom has no place. Do we feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment when we serve God as we were meant to do? Absolutely. But attempt to use these same gifts to build ourselves up, and the reward becomes hollow at best.

Instead, as my young musician friend has found, we need to find our joy in the privilege of being used by God to accomplish His purposes. It's not about how good we are at expressing our gift. It is about expressing how much we love Him as we work with all of our heart to do what He has given us to do.

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Ephesians 2:10

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

Outside my window... another beautiful day. We have been blessed in Maryland this summer with many days of bearable temperatures and low humidity. I don't take even one of them for granted. I told Steve yesterday we are having a New England summer!

I am thankful for... two unexpected checks that arrived in the mail which help cover the cost of two dental crowns I began to pay on last week. The Lord is so faithful to meet our needs.

From the kitchen... I'm cooking spicy chicken and mushrooms tonight, a recipe that I found in a Family Circle magazine. It is tasty and low fat. I'm working hard to stick to Weight Watchers in what I serve the family. And the pounds are sloooooowly coming off.

I am reading... What Paul Really Said About Women-- a book that covers the scripture directed at women. This is something I eventually have to get squared away in my head. My Plymouth Brethren upbringing is at odds with what seem to be New Testament principles on women's roles. Yesterday I spoke at my church. Yes, I gave the sermon. The elders requested that I do it, since my gift is obviously teaching, and my pastor is off on sabbatical. No lightening struck, and I am still alive after doing it. But I need to figure out exactly what scripture is directing women to do. This book is very helpful as far as I have gotten.

I am hoping... I can get tons done over the next three weeks. The writers' conference I am attending this year is on August 6-8.

I am creating... two new book proposals. One is almost done, the other may not be ready in time. I will still pitch the idea if not a whole proposal if necessary.

I am praying... that maybe I can find an agent at this conference. I definitely need the Lord's guidance on this one.

Around the house... I'm sewing curtains for my sister in law's new study my friend Beth and I are redecorating. I'm also working on a quilt for my future new living room-- for which I hope to start searching for furniture soon!

One of my favorite things... an ice cream cone from McDonald's. They are three WW points-- and so delicious!! Melanie and I save our points and often go out at night to get one. The guys at our closest McDonalds have begun to recognize us. Time to move on to a new McDonalds.

A few plans for the rest of the week... doctor appointment to schedule surgery to remove "a-typical cells" from my breast. A little scary, but I know my life is in God's very capable hands. I'm also bringing my mother-in-law to a caregiver's support group and then out to lunch tomorrow. Saturday we are attending a seminary friend's wedding at our old church-- looking forward to seeing old friends there.

So much for my exciting life-- Love, Julie

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Persistence vs. Perseverance

My daughter and I went to our Weight Watchers meeting Monday morning in total dread. On the way to the meeting, we lamented over all of the slip-ups (O.K., deliberate cheats) we had committed over the past month. The scale would surely reveal just how badly we had done. Instead, to our surprise we found we had not gained weight during a whole month of missed weigh-ins. I had even lost a pound and a half! Persistence in exercise and many successful days of watching the calorie intake paid off, even in light of the bad choices we had made at times.

One thing our Weight Watcher lecturer, Heather, always stresses, is that persistence is more important than perfection. I need to hear this over and over again, for I am a legalistic dieter. Once I cheat, I usually count the rest of that day and even sometimes the entire week as a total loss. And spend those lost days eating whatever I want. As you can imagine, this plan in not conducive to weight loss! Instead, I need to put the "slip-up" behind me immediately and get back on the plan. Persistence wins the battle. Even in the light of a profound lack of perfection.

I wonder if the writer of Hebrews had this principle in mind when he penned Hebrews 12:1: "Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us..."

I am no expert in running. But I do walk. And I can tell you with great authority that if you don't keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will never get to where you are trying to go. This morning on my walk I ran into an old friend and spent a few minutes chatting and catching up. Obviously neither of us made any physical progress as we stood enjoying pleasant conversation. You have to be moving in a positive direction in order to cover any distance.

God called David a man whose "heart was fully devoted to God" (1 Kings 11: 4). Can you imagine Scripture describing you as someone whose heart was completely sold out to the Lord? Yet we know that David wasn't perfect. He planned a murder and had an adulterous affair. So why does God call David a "man after my own heart"? I believe it is because the general direction of David's progress was an effort to grow closer to the God He loved.

The Connecticut River flows from north to south through the heart of New England in its journey to empty out into the Long Island Sound. If you were to get into a canoe somewhere between Vermont and New Hampshire, and begin the journey southward, eventually you would find yourself in the Long Island Sound. However, if you had a compass, it might not always seem to be the case. At times, you might be moving in an eastward or westward direction. Sometimes you might even be moving northward! But the general, persistent flow of the river would eventually carry you to its mouth.

That is a great picture of persistence or perseverance: moving in a generally positive direction, despite the twists and turns your life might take at times.

Jesus compared following him to traveling the Narrow Road. Perseverance is crucial to the traveler walking in faith. As we walk the Narrow Road, there are potholes and uneven spots along the journey. We may even stumble and fall from time to time as our feet catch on those sins that entangle us. Yet our progress continues as long as we get back up, brush ourselves off, and begin moving again. Don't get discouraged about your lack of perfection. Just be persistent.

"Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lied behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Simple Woman's Daybook

FOR TODAY July 2...

Outside my window... bright pink and white impatiens bordering my back yard and fern garden

I am thinking... I have so much to be grateful for.

I am thankful for... my husband, who generously just encouraged me to book a flight in September to the Berea Woman's Retreat and to spend time with my friend, Nancy, in NH

From the kitchen... tonight's dinner: Weight Watcher recipe Orange Beef with Snap Peas, and white rice

I am wearing... my workout clothes from this morning. I have been encouraged by the steady improvement I am seeing in my health after faithfully working out at Curves for the past month.

I am creating... a book proposal, actually two, to be presented at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer's Conference in August.

I am going... with my friend Beth to redecorate my sister-in-law's home office as a birthday gift. We are going down to her home tomorrow to draw up plans so I can do the grunt work while Beth is away on vacation.

I am reading... "The Sacred Ordinary" by Leigh McLeroy

I am hoping... I can lose 20 pounds by the writer's conference.

I am hearing... my baby grandson squack and shriek in the room down the hall. Nothing cuter than hearing those happy baby noises!

One of my favorite things... the way my dog's ears go back in pleasure when I walk into a room

Some random thoughts, from an ordinary day in the life of Julie Coleman!

To join in with The Simple Woman's Daybook, click here: http://thesimplewomansdaybook.blogspot.com/

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Compelling Love

Whenever we visit Connecticut, my sister Margie and I always manage to squeeze in time for our favorite activity: shopping. One of our favorite haunts is a group of stores located on what was an old Connecticut farmstead. The buildings have each been converted into a variety of country shops, offering curtains, furniture, and a wide assortment of accessories for sale. They retain some of their original walls and are divided into rooms. It is a quaint and fun place to spend the afternoon browsing.

As Margie, my mom and I were shopping there one day, I noticed a little boy alone. He was looking at some figurines with great interest. His parents had moved on to another room without him being aware of their departure. Suddenly he looked up and realized he was alone. With panic in his eyes, and he began to whimper softly, "Mommy? Where are you?"

My heart went out to him. I stooped down and gently said, "Honey, did you lose your mom and dad?"

But before I could offer to help, he looked at me in horror and screamed at the top of his lungs: "NO! GET AWAY FROM ME! YOU... ARE... A... STRANGER!!"

Embarrassed, I backed away, trying to assure what seemed to be dozens of people staring me down with accusing looks that I was only trying to help. Of course, my sister and mom were of no assistance: they were hidden behind the candles bent over double laughing. Fortunately, the mother came quickly at the sound of her son's scream, and the little guy was rescued.

That little boy was convinced that all strangers were evil. He was so persuaded, when I approached him, what he believed took precedence over getting help to find his mother. His actions surely demonstrated how strong that conviction was!

What we know to be true compels our response. "For Christ's love compels us," Paul wrote the Corinthians, "Because we are convinced that one died for all...those who live should no longer live for themselves..."

The original word, translated here in the NIV as compels, is translated as controls in the NASB. The Greek lexicon defines this word in several ways: to urge on, impel, or provide impulse for some activity. Other uses of the word include being occupied or absorbed, or involved in intensive engagement. You get the picture. What we have experienced of the love of Christ is life-altering knowledge.

The book of Acts gives us a startling before and after picture of men who, upon understanding the truth, responded in life-altering fashion. The night Jesus was arrested and brought to trial, the disciples who had faithfully followed Him for three years vanished into the night. There were no testimonials on Jesus' behalf at His trial; His closest friends had gone into hiding, afraid for their lives. Yet forty days later, we see these same men on the streets of Jerusalem in Acts 2, boldly preaching a resurrected Christ. When brought before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, Peter and John were commanded to refrain from preaching about Jesus any more. This was the same ruling counsel from which the disciples had hidden on the night of Jesus' arrest. But this time their response to this intimidating group was very different. They answered, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."

What changed these men from frightened and cowering to bold and convicted preachers? They had witnessed the resurrected Christ. They now understood why He had come and what He had accomplished. There was no doubt in their minds as to what was true. And that truth compelled them to spread the word, even at the risk of losing their very lives.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear," Ambrose Redmoon once observed. The disciples stood ready to risk everything because they knew something more important than their lives was at stake.

Our knowledge compels a response. Like that little boy at the country store whose conviction impelled him to reject the advances of a stranger, our conviction moves us to respond just as strongly to what we know to be true. We owe Him everything. The great love that He has lavished upon us demands a response. It only makes sense that we would choose to live for Him.

"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore, all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf."
2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Coleman Engagement!!

Last week, while on a romantic beach, my youngest son Joe proposed to the woman he loves. She said yes. We are thrilled to welcome Elizabeth Leidig to the Coleman family! Liz is a physical therapist and a long-time resident of Annapolis. Her dad is a Navy man, so she has lived all over the world. She is a sweet, fun-loving, generous-hearted girl. We love her very much.

The wedding will probably be sometime in November. I'll post more details as they develop!

Eye on the Finish Line

Harold Abrahams, the "other runner" whose story was portrayed alongside Eric Liddell's in Chariots of Fire, was no slouch athlete either. His unofficial time broke a world record in the hundred meter dash, and he won both gold and silver medals in the 1924 Olympics.

Abrahams was able to shave off time in his runs by disciplining himself to keep his eyes focused on the goal. Earlier on, he had made the mistake of glancing back at the other runners, costing him precious tenths of a second. On the day of his gold medal run, he kept a short reminder in his pocket written to him by his coach. "Only think of two things," it said, "the report of the pistol and the tape. When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other."

There are plenty of things to look at when you are headed down the track. A runner's focus makes all the difference. Abrahams looked back at the other runners. Other racers might be tempted to focus on the track itself, noting its imperfections and difficulties. Still others might look back at the distance already covered. But in order to run most efficiently, the runner must focus on one thing: the tape at the finish line.

We, too, are in a race of sorts. As we run, we too will benefit from where we train our gaze. My tendency is to look at my fellow runners. From the outside looking in, they always seem to have it together, at least more than I do. They are wiser and so much more spiritual than I can ever hope to be. They They even control their tongues so much better than me. Comparing myself to them is downright discouraging.

Others might be looking at the track ahead. The surface is not even and contains hazards and even pitfalls. The runner worries about injury or even becomes discouraged about persisting on such a rough road until the finish line. His focus becomes all about the logistics of the race instead of about the reason he is running.

A third place to focus is on where we have already been. The runner who continually looks back on the distance he has covered is looking in the wrong direction. He congratulates himself on his accomplishment thus far. And in doing so, he may lose his sense of purpose for the rest of the race still ahead, preferring to rest on his laurels rather than continue on.

Peter experienced the damage a lack of focus can have. When Jesus called him out of the safety of the boat to walk across the water to him, he quickly obeyed. Things went swimmingly well at first (forgive the pun) as Peter set out toward the Lord. However, when he began to notice the wind blowing and the waves mounting around him, his steps began to falter. Peter began to sink until the Lord reached out and saved him. Had he kept his focus on the One who had already calmed a storm in Peter's presence, who created the water and waves to begin with, his journey would have ended much differently.

Hebrews 12 tells us: "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith..." Jesus stands at our metaphorical finish line, having already run and completed a perfect race before us. He faced the same rough track, never losing sight of his end goal: the joy of the finish line. He alone provides adequate inspiration as we run.

Learning to keep our gaze where it belongs is a discipline to be learned and practiced. Harold Abrahams sliced off tenths of a second in mastering that skill, and it won him a gold in the 100 meter race. Our reward for doing the same is this: "Consider Him... so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Growing Roots in a Drought

On Friday afternoon, our Annapolis neighborhood experienced a microburst during a heavy thunderstorm. The intense wind toppled a very large tree which previously stood about fifteen feet from the back of the house. When it went down, it took a large evergreen with it and missed our back porch roof by inches. This was no small tree. I couldn't even get my arms around half of its girth. My husband paced off its length and guesses it was about one hundred feet tall. When the tree toppled, the roots were torn right out of the ground.

It surprised us to see the relatively sparse root system that held this very large tree in place all those years. We were amazed the tree hadn't blown over long ago in view of its tenuous support system. Most trees have roots that go deep into the soil. They do this as a result of a tropism, which is a plant's ability to grow in response to its environment. You have probably observed plants leaning over toward the sunlight, which is phototropism. Hydrotropism is a tree's ability to grow its roots toward a source of water. When water is plentiful at the surface, as in during a rainy growing season, the roots will grow near the surface of the ground. However, during a drought, a tree's roots are forced to go deep in search of an alternate source of water. They will grow down toward the ground water flowing deep beneath the surface. So in an ironic way, a drought actually extends the life of a tree. The deep growth of roots will allow the tree to withstand the winds of many a storm.

The Bible is filled with stories of God allowing His people to go through extended periods of spiritual drought. Joseph spent thirteen years waiting for God to rescue him after being sold into slavery by his brothers. Job was allowed to suffer in grief and agonizing pain while his "friends" harassed him in his misery. Jacob had to live away from his family and inheritance for many years until the Lord finally called him back to Canaan. David spent years in the desert hiding from Saul and his army while waiting to be crowned king. There must have been days for each of these men when God seemed silent and aloof.

Why did God allow an extended period of drought in each of these men's lives? The drought was a tool, designed and used for their good. In order to fulfill God's purpose for their lives, these men needed a relationship with Him that could withstand the challenges they would someday encounter. God, in His wisdom, provided an opportunity to grow that kind of faith. Waiting on God, learning to trust Him on the basis of what we know to be true rather than how we might feel, drives our faith roots deep. We learn to listen harder for His voice, to trust more deeply in His goodness, and to have greater faith in His wisdom. Our forced dependence on Him reminds us once again of our inadequacy without Him. And in our weakened state, we are now in prime condition to be used by a God who prefers the weak to the strong.

A drought serves a purpose. We do not ache without result. Once the rains return, ending the dryness and barrenness, we emerge more ready to face what lies ahead. We have learned to focus our attention on Christ who is now more than ever the source of our strength. When the storms of life have at us, we will be able to stand firm. All thanks to the periods of drought.

"Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary." Isaiah 40:31

There are pictures of the tree that was on the previous post on this site. This post is the latest entry on my email newsletter, The Dogwood Digest. If you enjoyed this article, please use the link at the right of this page to sign up for my weekly devotional!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Death of an Old Friend

This is the tree that fell in our backyard on May 29 during a microburst. It missed our house by inches, grazing only the edge of the porch roof. I was amazed to see even our potted plants survived the tumble!

We were amazed to see how shallow the roots were. It made us wonder how the tree withstood previous windstorms over the years.

The tree was very tall-- Steve estimates about 100-120 feet. It went well into our neighbor's yard. It took down a huge evergreen at the opposite end of our backyard on its way down.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cultivating a Quiet Spirit

Have you ever known someone who has lived their whole life trusting God without question? I have someone in my life like that. I will call her Francis. She has seen more personal tragedy in her lifetime than most people ever will. As a teen, she had to quit school and go to work to help support the family when her father died unexpectedly. When her own children were young, a gas leak in her basement caused an explosion that demolished their home and everything in it. Several of her children became involved with alcohol and drugs for a period of time in their teen and early adult years. Her husband died prematurely after a long struggle with diabetes and heart problems. She herself has had major health issues over the years. But most of these hardships paled in comparison when she lost two small grandchildren in a terrible tragedy involving their mentally ill mother.

Just two weeks ago, Francis faced yet another heart-wrenching loss-- her son, only 52 years old, died of a heart attack.

I worried how she could ever recover from such a blow at her age, especially after all she has been through over the years. As I dialed her number the day after receiving the news, I prayed that the Lord would give me the right words to say that would bring a small amount of comfort to her grieving heart. The woman who answered the phone was grieving, no doubt. Yet one thing struck me above all else as we talked. She had total trust in the Lord through the circumstance. She was at peace and rested in God’s goodness and control.

Peter wrote the women of the church that they should have this same attitude. “Your adornment must not be merely external…but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of the Lord.” (1 Peter 3:3, 4) Those words, quiet spirit, used to worry me about my own spirituality. No one would ever use the word quiet to describe this story-telling, gregarious, loud-laughing extrovert. But the Greek word Peter uses is not the opposite of loud. It would be better translated peaceful. It is an attitude of complete trust and submission to the will of God.

Jesus had a quiet spirit. He determined to put His obedience to the Father’s will above all else. Not once did He deviate from the course set out for Him. He remained silent before His accusers. When He was mocked, he did not retaliate. He calmly washed the feet of two of his untrustworthy disciples on the night of his arrest: one would deny Him hours later, and the second would soon betray Him with a kiss. His obedience ultimately led to an excruciating death on a cross. How could the Sinless One remain so calmly focused in the chaos that surrounded Him? He rested in the fact that the Father was in control. His was a quiet spirit.

“You have assigned me my portion and my cup, and have made my lot secure,” David wrote in Psalm 16. Each assignment is made with our eternal good in mind. God could not do anything BUT good. While we might question His assignments from our limited perspective, in His wisdom, God is at work in the details of our lives with a focused agenda. He is determined to bring glory to Himself and to complete the work in us started at our salvation.

Key to remaining at peace with God is determining ahead of time what we want. David had the right idea: “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to mediate in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4) Paul echoes this sentiment: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) Both Paul and David had one priority, one thing in mind: to live their lives focused on the God they loved. This desire can be lived out regardless of circumstance.

We can spend our days fussing and fuming at a God whom we believe might be in control, yet has questionable wisdom or goodness. Or we can doubt His power over circumstances or even His intimate involvement in our lives. However, scripture gives us a different picture. It depicts a powerful God who created the universe with a word. That same powerful God makes it His business to know every thought we think and the number of hairs on our head. He loves us with a passion, and every act of His toward us reflects that great love.

Instead of balking at what happens in our lives, we must determine to love God with our mind, soul, heart, and strength. Circumstances are really inconsequential to this agenda. This is something that my friend Francis has already learned. And when we determine to live with a quiet spirit, deciding to trust God regardless of what lies ahead, Peter tells us this is precious in the sight of the Lord.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dreading the Journey

I never look forward to walking the dog. Each morning, as my alarm goes off, Sasha paws eagerly at my bedroom door, anxious for our daily constitutional to begin. She whimpers impatiently as I sleepily pull on my sneakers and socks, beside herself that we haven’t left yet. I sigh as we go through the front door into the great outdoors. Our round trip is a little over a mile, which takes us approximately thirty minutes. Weather conditions can be uncomfortable-- early in the mornings, the winter air is still bitingly cold and conversely the summer air too warm and humid. Sometimes my hip hurts as we walk. Leg muscles protest as I struggle up the hills. We often encounter other dogs, and Sasha barks vigorously, almost pulling me off my feet in her excitement as we pass them by. I am always happy to round the last bend and see my house and driveway, knowing the effort is at an end.

Yet despite my dread, I know the walk is so good for me. My doctor called to report my cholesterol is down along with my blood pressure (she specifically requested I pat the dog on the head for her). My muscles are stronger and I have better physical endurance than I have had in a long while. It is good for me psychologically as well. Spending a half-hour in the sunshine boosts my morale. I have met many neighbors in the community I would never otherwise have met while walking. The splendor of nature and the gradual change of seasons always lifts my spirits. Every day I appreciate more and more the beautiful surroundings in which we live. The benefits of the effort are many.

Even knowing this, getting up and out the door never gets easier. Given the choice on any morning, I would rather roll over, snuggle under the covers, and go back to sleep. Or maybe get a nice hot cup of coffee and slowly wake up as I sip, wrapped in a bathrobe. Looking ahead, my early morning walk is never positively anticipated.

Yet once it is accomplished, I am never sorry I did it.

I am looking ahead to possibly another kind of dreaded journey. After two mammograms, I went today for a biopsy on a suspicious area they have found. The uncertainty of the situation is a bit scary. If it is cancer (I hate to even type that word), trying times lie ahead. No one would choose such a path. Yet there are benefits to even that kind of journey.

Hard circumstances are frequently not all bad, but mostly just hard. The metaphors that we use to describe God at work in us are largely painful in character: the hot flames of a refiner’s fire, chipping off the rough edges to reveal the beauty of a diamond within, or the dying of the old man being replaced by a new creation. All these processes bring pain to the one being transformed. But always the outcome is worth the struggle.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Light and momentary troubles? Several times Paul was beaten to within an inch of his life and left for dead! He had been imprisoned, thrown out of synagogues, and rejected by his own kinsmen. My guess is that he classified his suffering as light and momentary only in comparison to the resulting glory they would accomplish in him. The glory that was being produced was eternal in nature. Worth the fleeting and momentary price, to be sure.

I’ll let you know the outcome of my little circumstance. One thing is for certain--the destination is worth the journey, even when traveling a rocky, pothole filled road. We might not choose pain, but even as we begin to place one foot in front of the other, we can know we will not be sorry when the trip has reached its conclusion. Our God is faithful and will not waste one minute of our pain. He will reap the benefits for us and will remain by our side in the struggle.

“For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifest in our mortal flesh… Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”
2 Corinthians 4:11, 16

Update: Wonderful news on the biopsy-- no cancer was found!! I am thankful-- but not just for a good report, however relieving that it was. More, I am thankful that the Lord gave me peace throughout the few days we had to wonder about what the future held. Our confidence is not in the circumstance or in how we hope God will act. Our confidence is in the character of God, knowing He could not BE anything but good. No matter what the circumstance.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Discipline of Forgiving

When we were dating, my husband had the habit of sending me four or five pink demerit slips he had earned while attending Bible college with each of his letters. At one point I asked him just how many he possessed, since he appeared to be drawing from a never ending supply. He showed me the stack in the top drawer of his desk. It was impressive. Now don't get the wrong idea-- they were all for relatively small misdemeanors, like leaving the lights on or the bed unmade. Yet over time they accumulated into enough of a statement that he was called into the dean's office to give an account for his actions. Apparently, small "sins," over a long period of time, can add up.

This principle is true in relationships as well. It is why Paul, in describing a godly kind of love, reminded the Corinthians: "Love is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." In this simple description, Paul gives us powerful preventative medicine for all of our relationships: we must maintain an on-going discipline of forgiveness.

The Old Man of the Mountain, a massive granite formation which once overlooked Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, stood for thousands of years, most likely created by glaciers that once moved over northern New Hampshire. It was the New Hampshire state symbol, and beloved enough to earn a place on the New Hampshire state quarter. Thousands of tourists stopped each year on their way up I-93 to take photographs of this famous landmark. Then one night in May 2003, during a heavy wind and rain storm, the Old Man formation collapsed into the valley below. What could fell such a huge monument, after standing for thousands of years? Tiny individual molecules of water.

When water freezes, it expands. The collapse of the Old Man was a result of small amounts of water seeping into the cracks year after year, freezing and expanding, making the fissures a small bit wider each time. Finally the cracks became wide enough to weaken the entire structure, and the monument crumbled.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote of this principle within the context of marriage: "Marriages break up when 'small' things accumulate and resentments build. Love is the intention of unity. Resentment is the destroyer of unity." Making frequent decisions to forgive is crucial to the health of a relationship.

Easier said than done, you are probably thinking. What if the offending party is not sorry and shows no sign of repentance from the behavior that hurt you in the first place? You are not alone-- Peter struggled with this idea as well. "How many times must I forgive?" he asked the Lord. He then generously offered, "Up to seven times?" Rabbinic standards required forgiving up to three offenses. Peter was willing to more than double the standard. Surely seven times would be enough.

Jesus took care of Peter's faulty expectation with his answer. "Seventy times seven," he replied.

How can we choose to forgive on a daily basis? By keeping our eyes trained on Christ. By choosing to forgive, we are expressing what he has freely done for us. We were forgiven when we did not deserve mercy. That's the meaning of grace: undeserved merit or favor.

To indulge in harboring grievances is most often an exercise in self-absorption. We struggle to forgive a wrong because we feel we deserved better than what was done to us. Christ deserved better. He deserved honor and glory because he was God. Yet he chose to lay aside his equality with God and humbled himself to obedience, to the point of death on a cross.

Amy Carmichael observed: "If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into the vice of self-pity and self-sympathy; if I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

Choosing to forgive is really a reflection of our understanding of how much we have been forgiven ourselves. It is a discipline which often must be performed outside of our emotional state. We are choosing to love because we know we are loved. And as we imitate our Savior in forgiveness, we understand a bit more of what it took for him to bear our sin.

"If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." 1 Peter 2:20-24

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Called to Fail

Every elementary teacher is painfully aware of the challenging students moving toward her grade level. The future troublemakers make themselves known in the hallways, during assemblies, and on the playground. Before they ever walked through the door of my fifth grade classroom, I was fully aware of what was coming.

I began to dread one particular child early in his fourth grade year. His name was always expressed in an exasperated tone by his teachers. It seemed like every time I walked down the hall, there he sat on the floor outside the door of his classroom, banished for his bad behavior. He was an angry, frustrated little boy. And I had a sinking feeling that in the next year he would be all mine.

And so he was. I am only one very limited woman. Yet I knew that God had given him to me; not only for his benefit, but for mine as well. We would spend the year learning from each other. I threw myself into the boy. Every time I could find a reason to praise or encourage him, I did. I set reasonable and attainable boundaries for him. I carefully picked my battles and made sure the negative he got from me did not outweigh the positive. He was sneaky and manipulative. He also had some leadership qualities, and several of the other boys began to follow his bad example. I determinedly continued to work at positively influencing him. It wasn't easy. And unfortunately, it wasn't especially successful, either.

I breathed a sigh of relief as he walked out my door on the last day of school. I continued to occasionally see him throughout his middle school years as he passed my classroom door. He remained a troublemaker. I don't know if my year with him made any difference whatsoever. I sometimes think of him, and wonder how he is now as an adult. I wish I could have done more to help him turn around.

We all like a story with a happy ending. Even as Christians, we tend to measure our effectiveness by the "success" of our ministry. Yet there are times that God knowingly calls us to something that will ultimately result in failure.

Isaiah had that kind of calling. "Go, and tell this people: Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand. Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed." (Isaiah 6:9, 10) Judah had long been unfaithful to their God. Judgment was imminent. Isaiah was to bring a message to a people who would reject it hardheartedly.

God was sending Isaiah on a mission doomed to failure.

If he did it in the way God intended, the nation would remain unreceptive. This was in God's plan, for Judah had many spiritual lessons to learn that would only be accomplished by extreme hardship and desolation. Eventually the nation would repent. But it would not be in response to Isaiah's message.

Author Leigh McLeroy, in her excellent book, "The Beautiful Ache," comments on the idea of serving without immediate reward: "My generation is big on return-on-investment. We want to see results. We don't invest in much of anything at all unless we're relatively certain we'll be rewarded. But following the King into the mysteries of the kingdom may demand that we deny our rush to "cash in" and introduce ourselves to the discipline of long, unmeasured spending. Some might call this lack of foresight. But not Jesus. He would call it faithful obedience-- and he doesn't relent in asking for it."

God wants us in for the long haul. He is more interested in who we are in the process than in the final result of our efforts. Day by day obedience, even when things are true drudgery at best, or excruciatingly difficult at worst, is what honors Him. Because what we do should be about serving God, and not done for a self-serving sense of fulfillment.

Yes, we are called to live victoriously. But that victory may not always be over circumstances. It may be in the fact that we were found faithful in spite of the failure to accomplish what we set out to do.

"Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." Colossians 3:17

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Waiting on Your Dream

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:3-5

God gives us desires. He places dreams in our hearts to pray over and work toward. When our desires are from the Lord, he will carry them out to fruition.Back in 1991, I was given my first opportunity to speak before a large group of women. It was at a Mothers’ Day breakfast hosted by my church, Cedar Ridge Community Church. I was flattered they thought I had something to share, but at the same time I was terrified. For weeks I agonized over my message. Finally the day arrived. Trembling, I walked to the podium and began to share what God had given me. To my surprise, the women listened intently to what I had to say. They laughed at my stories. Many nodded their heads with looks of appreciation as I hit each of my main application points. Some even shed tears. After I finished, I received an enthusiastic round of applause. It was the most fabulous 20 minutes of my life.

I could hardly wait to get home and share my success with my husband. “They loved it!” I enthused. “It was a total rush, standing up there, sharing the Word of God. I could do that every day for the rest of my life!” That very morning I began to pray that the Lord would choose to use me in this way again. The dream had been planted.

Over the next decade, I was asked to speak once or twice a year at various churches or camps holding special events. Not an overwhelming number, but those engagements kept the dream alive. I began to feel strongly that the Lord had given me a gift. I also wondered why he wasn’t allowing me more opportunities to use it.

Waiting, while your desires fester in your heart, can be excruciating. We are tempted to try to “make it happen,” as Sarah did when she offered Hagaar to Abraham. However, with this particular dream of mine, I was very afraid of going ahead of the Lord. I wanted to be ready if I was to take on a ministry of this nature.

God did use that waiting period to get me ready. He did this through the experiences I had in raising my four children and learning how to be a godly wife. When God took my mother home to Heaven after a long fight with cancer, I struggled through a long period of grief that tested my faith. Two years of my life were spent in learning how to manage Panic Disorder. Much learning took place during my teaching career as I worked with a total of over 500 students and their parents. When I look back on who I was in 1991, I shudder to think of the kind of speaker I would have been. God knew this, and took the time to insure the ministry he wanted to do through me would be effective. He lovingly and carefully orchestrated the circumstances and people around me to grow me into a woman ready to teach his word and encourage others.

Finally, in 2004, the Lord gave me my first opportunity to be a speaker for a weekend-long women’s retreat. From there, the opportunities began to flow. I also began to write a book. Several of the articles I had written were published in magazines. It seemed like the Lord was indicating the time had finally come. So I retired from teaching and enrolled in seminary to pursue my master’s degree in Biblical studies. My husband was in full support of these decisions. He, too, sensed God’s movement and timing in our lives.

The point to this long story is this: God plants the dream, but then is faithful to sustain it. He waters it with encouragements, using opportunities and people in our lives. He nourishes it by working within us, getting us ready for the fulfillment of that dream. When the time is right, he brings that dream to fruition. When he does, we marvel at his timing and wisdom. We look back on his faithfulness and wonder at his patience with us as we stewed and fretted in the wait.

What dream do you hold in your heart? It could be finding that perfect someone to become your spouse. Maybe God is taking his time in giving you children. Is there a ministry that your heart is drawn to? You may be searching for a job or wishing for a home of your own. We become disillusioned with God when those dreams remain unfulfilled. Yet how much agony we would save ourselves if we would determine to trust God to bring that dream to pass, in his timing, not ours.

We can trust our faithful God who originally planted the dream within us to be faithful to carry it to completion. And when He does, we will give the glory to Him, because He will make sure that we understand it was His accomplishment, not ours. It will be worth the wait.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Loving Limas

My Uncle Bob grew up hating lima beans. No threats, rewards, or anything else offered to that little boy could induce him to swallow the dreaded green mush. This did not remain a life-long condition, however, thanks to the army. During boot camp training, he returned from an all-day post to find the dining room ready to close. There was only one thing left for the weary, starving soldier to eat: lima beans. Uncle Bob dutifully loaded up his plate; he figured he was hungry enough to force down anything. As he began to chow down, an amazing thing happened. Those lima beans were delicious! He had never tasted anything so good! Hunger had turned distain for lima beans into enjoyment. To this day, my Uncle Bob still has a passion for lima beans.

When faced with true hunger, what used to be passed over with distain suddenly became palatable.

We are a country full of people who have been gorging on luxury. In the past few decades, houses have been built to enormous proportions. Expensive items like fancy cars and oversized digital TVs are commonplace. We dine out at restaurants several times a week, seeking new exciting tastes and culinary presentations. Storage facilities have become commonplace as we rent space to hold the overflowing possessions which no longer fit into our homes. There is nothing inherently wrong with material possessions or privilege. Yet they do present a spiritual challenge: when we live with plenty, we tend to feel satiated. We can lose our hunger for the things that really matter.

"When the flesh feeds itself, the hunger of the spirit is forgotten," wrote Calvin Miller in The Song. We turn to God when we need. But in our wealthy society, those times for us have become few and far between.

We share our wealthy status with a church which was located in the prosperous first century town of Laodicea. Christ spoke to this church in Revelation 3. "You say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." The Laodicians were rich, alright. They were rich in self-sufficiency and pride. Yet in their arrogance they had missed seeing the reality: they were living in spiritual poverty.

The city of Laodicea was a great commercial and financial center. It was famous for manufacturing a soft, glossy black wool, popular in local and export trade. Banking was a strong industry in the city. Laodicea was also boasted a well-known medical school which developed several medicines. One in particular was a salve used to cure eye diseases. Christ offered his church in Laodicea spiritual counterparts to these things. "Buy from me gold refined by the fire so that you may become [truly] rich, and white garments that you may [truly] clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may [truly] see."

They were poor, naked, and blind. Only what Christ offered could truly solve their need.

A few weeks ago I taught at a retreat that was held in the lap of luxury. The accommodations were beautiful, the food delicious. Everything was first class. The people of that particular church were largely accustomed to living a comfortable lifestyle. In light of this, I was fascinated to hear what part of my teaching resonated with the women in my audience that weekend. They expressed a need for truth and strength to help them through their struggles. They wanted to hear about waiting on God, and dealing with the storms of life that threatened their faith. It struck me as I heard them express their needs that God had been faithful to them. He did not let them grow complacent in their financial security. Instead, He was careful to continually introduce things into their lives that kept them on their knees.

We might be tempted to look at such things as problems. God looks at them as tools. We think they happen somehow in spite of the goodness of God. In reality, they happen because of the goodness of God. He wants us to rely on his necessary grace day by day and not grow complacent because we begin to believe we are self-sufficient.

We might pass over limas altogether should we never know what it is to hunger. What lays heavy on our hearts is often what keeps our feet planted in the reality of our insatiable need for God.

"The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." Psalm 34:7, 8

Friday, March 13, 2009

Party Girl

My first college roommate was the antithesis of everything I held dear. I was a girl interested in a pursuit of God. She was interested in partying. Within the few days of freshman orientation, my roommate found others on campus just like her. They began to go out drinking most nights. She would come back to the dorm room drunk in the early morning hours, almost always inadvertently waking me out of a sound sleep. I would lay in bed, my face to the wall, angrily stewing about her state of rebellion. Her parents were in full-time ministry and loved her dearly. They made a huge sacrifice to send her to a Christian college in hopes she would turn her life around and begin to follow Christ. But all of their concern was lost on her. She was living for herself.

Soon my anger at her irresponsible behavior spilled over into every part of our relationship. I hated what she stood for and judged her harshly. I could barely be civil, so great was my distaste for the lifestyle she was choosing. One day, alone in the room, I began to rail at God. Why had he placed us in the same dorm room? How could I be expected to peacefully coexist with someone who stood for everything I hated? I knew Jesus said to love our enemies and pray for them. How could I change my feelings?

In desperation, I turned to 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. What exactly was God calling me to do? What did he mean by love? I wanted specifics. As I read over the list detailing biblical love, I was struck with one thought: each of the expressions of love listed did not involve an emotional response at all! Instead, they were specific actions that actually might be carried out in spite of what we might be feeling. Biblical love is an act of the will. Emotions have little to do with it at all. I decided I could do that. If I didn't have to feel love, but just perform the correct actions, I could obey.

I began to work to change my part in our relationship. On the nights she was out drinking, I made up my roommate's bed, moving the piles of clothes off it so she could easily slip between the covers. One night I stayed up late typing a paper for her. If I got out to the store, I would always bring back a candy bar or some other small token gift.

As I worked to obey God with my actions, a funny thing happened.

God began to change my heart.

I began to look forward to when she would come back into the room. Her well-being became important to me. Rather than gritting my teeth in determined obedience, I found that loving my roommate had become an enjoyable task. No longer was I seething with resentment. I began to actually like the girl! By the time we parted ways at the end of the year, it was with great affection and tears. God had blessed my obedience by changing my emotions to match my actions.

Loving is not about feelings. That may be how society views it, but the Bible has a different take on love. In Scripture, love is all about our actions toward another. This is how we can love our enemies, as Jesus asked His disciples to do. It is how we can live in unity despite many differences. I found that loving my difficult roommate was not such a challenge at all when my focus was solely on obedience to God.

Biblical love is given only in the interest of the recipient. It will not be for our benefit at all. Jesus even said, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get... do not even the pagans do that?" Biblical love has nothing to do with how deserving the recipient of our love may or may not be. It is a response to the love that God has lavished upon us.

Where we keep our focus as we move forward in obedience makes all the difference. Our eyes must be trained on Him, the initiator of our own love relationship with Him. Our actions must be a response to the love we have ourselves received.

"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." John 4:10-11

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

He's at the Helm

The world can be a frightening place for a child. My husband and I both remember the days of nuclear bomb drills at school, cowering under desks with hands over our heads. (I'm still not sure how effective that tactic would have been in the event of an actual nuclear attack!) We lecture our children thoroughly on the dangers of strangers. We brief them on escape plans for our homes should fire strike. Since 9/11, most families have emergency plans to find each other should something catastrophic happen. Even the environment is a threat. As young as in elementary school, children are taught about global warming with its resulting climate catastrophes just around the corner. Even though this is all preparation for what may never come, it can give a child the impression that things are spinning out of control.

Sometimes reading biblical prophecy can be just as scary. There is much in the future still to be played out, according to scripture. And much of that future reads more like an R-rated movie than a happily ever after fairy tale. The judgment of God will come someday on a world which has turned its back in rebellion against Him.Why does God spend so much time warning about His coming judgment? Why the chapters and chapters of prophecy about something we may never experience in our lifetime? Foremost, of course, God is concerned for our salvation. He does not want any to perish (1 Peter 3:9). Knowing what eventually lies ahead for this world is excellent motivation to reach out to God.

There is another purpose served by the writings of prophecy. When we read the plans of God, we are left with a lasting conviction: God controls the destiny of the world. Everything is going according to plan. He demonstrates this by letting us know there is a plan (and it all works out in the end!) We see all the prophecy about the first coming carefully fulfilled in Jesus Christ. What is still in our future will be painstakingly orchestrated as well. We can live our lives in optimism and hope because we live for a powerful God who holds the future in His hands. So on days when I am discouraged, feel hopeless, or wonder if the news could get worse, I count on God's promise: "In this world you have tribulation, but take courage: I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a story of a ship and its occupants moving perilously close to the rocks in a violent sea. The ship's passengers huddled together on the deck below, in terror that their lives were at an end. One brave man volunteered to go above deck to seek out the captain to ascertain the situation. With great difficulty, he made his way to the pilot house. There he found the captain, chained to his post, hands confidently on the wheel. Seeing the passenger's terror, the captain gave him a reassuring smile. The man gave his fellow passengers his hopeful news when he returned to those huddled below. "All is well. All is well. I saw the pilot's face and he smiled."

I had a similar experience once on a bumpy flight to Hartford. I sat in the same row as a uniformed pilot who had caught our flight to get to his next assignment. While turbulence usually makes me nervous, this time I watched him. If he suddenly hunched over into a crash position, I would know it was time to panic. However, while he calmly slipped his coffee and read his magazine, I knew all was well.

I believe this is the reason we are allowed a glimpse into the future. In the midst of seeming uncertainty and conflict, we as people of God can rest secure in the knowledge that He has it all in hand. Nothing happens that surprises God. Beyond the conflict and agony of this life, we have the hope of certain victory in Christ. The story is already written.

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