Monday, April 14, 2014

A Little Transparency … A LOT of Freedom

Oftentimes we don’t recognize our own brokenness until one day we hear someone else’s words escape our own lips. Oddly, the voice may even sound like the one we know who is broken.

This was the case for me over the past months. Someone close to me had fought hard and lost her battle with cancer. We know she is now walking and talking with Jesus, but my heart aches at the thought that until her final day she wondered whether anyone cared, or even loved her.

Throughout my life, I’d spent countless hours trying to prove my devotion. I’d exhausted myself, strained relationships outside our little circle, and ended up on the wrong side of her beliefs regarding love and devotion. I lived in fear that I'd make her unhappy regardless of my efforts.

When her focus wasn’t my lack of concern for her, she’d point out others who couldn’t love her well enough.

And yet, we did.

Everyone who came into contact with her either thought she was an incredibly strong woman, or someone whom they simply enjoyed having lunch (or coffee) with. She had a gorgeous smile and a witty sense of humor to go with it. She had a knack for immersing her hands in many projects, and then dispersing them among friends, family, and anyone else who might cast an admiring glance towards one of her creations.

But it was never enough. She believed herself unloved, unwanted, and a failure.

I’d known for quite a while that I suffered similar traits, but it wasn’t until shortly after her passing that I’d begun speaking the same doubts about everyone. If my church loved me enough … If my family cared … If my "friends" would just …

I’m sure you get the idea.

A friend said to me, one day, “You are listening to the enemy right now.”

“No. That’s not possible. I believe God. I trust Him. I wouldn’t listen to the enemy’s lies,” I countered.

The trouble is, whenever a person believes something to be true, it is true to them. And there is no convincing them otherwise. Only God can peel back the scales so the person can see clearly. Only God can shed light into a darkened heart. Only God can make a blind man see. Our job is to believe Him.

And that is what happened. One day, I can’t put my finger on the specifics, other than to say that “suddenly” I realized that what I’d been hearing all these years were indeed lies; that God is my affirmation, my wholeness, and the one who—regardless of the selfless acts of others—loves me better and more fiercely than anyone.

And that, dear friends, is the truth that is more sure than anyone’s exhaustive attempts at proving that we were born for a purpose, destined for greatness, or that people enjoy having us around. 

It is freeing, not only to me, but to those who’ve been burdened with the need to prove their selves.

Isn’t that what we all want, to be free of bondages whether self-imposed or loaded on us by another?

It is definitely what Jesus came to do:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed;
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
(Luke 4: 18,19 NKJV)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I Am A Penguin

About two months ago (as I’m writing this), my pastor asked me if I’d be willing to help him with some English classes he’s holding for several Spanish-speaking residents of our little village. I was reluctant to do so; I’m not much of an extrovert, and I had no Spanish whatsoever beyond nachos and guacamole.

He was persuasive, though—he assigned me to work with a few young women with intermediate English skills, while he worked with the beginner students for whom he could translate and explain en español.

These lovely women quickly put me to shame, for their self-taught English was indicative of their strong desire to become productive members of society—mothers who could provide for their children, hard workers, responsible residents. And they were so friendly and sweet, their beautiful brown eyes sparkling as they laughed at their own efforts to figure out irregular English verbs.

On the very first evening that we worked together, Maria offered to make a meal for my family. I was stunned by her offer, humbled that she wanted to perform this gracious service for a near stranger. The only thing I could do to try to meet her graciousness was to attempt what she and Lupita had already done—I would learn to speak with them in their own language, as they were learning to speak mine.

Thus began my journey into the world of computer-taught Spanish. I’ve been working at it for at least an hour every day—some days even more than that—and I have baggies of flash cards to show for it. Close to 1000 words now: I know how to write “I am a penguin” (Soy un pingüino) and “This ugly orange skirt is too small for me” (Esta falda naranja feo es demasiado pequeño para mí.). I’m far better at writing Spanish and reading it than I am at speaking it, though—the week when I finally got bold enough to actually say something to Maria in Spanish, I introduced Ben to her as mi esposa—my wife.

I’ve got to the point now when I need to expand beyond my computer program, so not long ago I downloaded a few intermediate Spanish children’s books to my Kindle. The first one was Pinocchio—I figured that between my 1000 flashcards and my familiarity with the story, I’d be able to read most of it, and it would give me some practice in figuring out words from context.

I’m telling you—Pinocchio is hard.

I’ve always been a very good reader; I was reading so well as a kindergartner that I skipped first grade altogether, and reading is as easy as breathing for me. I spent my entire life as a teacher of learning disabled students who read with great difficulty. Now, trying to read Pinocchio in Spanish¸ I understand a little, I think, of how hard reading was for my students. If I don’t know a word, it will not make itself known to me, no matter how long I stare at its unintelligible sequence of letters.

My babyish understanding of Spanish must be a little bit like our spirits’ understanding of the language of God. We get glimpses, every now and then, of something that makes sense to us, of letters in God’s spiritual alphabet that combine with other letters to make beautiful words that make us draw in our breath  with a yes. Other times we stare at the strange language and we have no context in which it makes sense. We struggle to read—to understand—only to find out that we have understood nothing, and that the word we thought meant now actually means no. But a little while later, in another flash of insight, we see that God has rearranged His letters and words, and what we thought was I am leaving for a while really was I have been here all along.

The woman who lives in my computer and speaks Spanish has a pleasant voice, but when I first heard her speak a complete sentence (I think it was “the boy drinks milk”-- El niño bebe leche), I thought, I will never be able to understand that. Two months later, I understand that and much, much more—because I have earnestly applied myself to understanding her. But my understanding of the beautiful language of Maria and Lupita will never be perfect, just as my understanding of the language of God will never be perfect—this side of paraíso.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Being Selfless Selfishly

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 

We are often told to put God before everything, and others before ourselves. You've probably seen the acronym JOY: Jesus, Others, You.

But what you do - or what you don't do - isn't what is important. What really matters, my friends, is your attitude. WHY you are doing (or not doing) it.

Perhaps you decided to give something up - chocolate, maybe, or meat - for Lent. If you succeed - make it another ten days (yes, we're 3/4 of the way through today!) -  you can count it as an accomplishment. But why did you choose that sacrifice? To be like your friends? To garner pity or accolades from others? To be seen as spiritual? To show that you could?  In all honesty, my friends, if you did it FOR ANY REASON OTHER THAN TO GLORIFY GOD, your selfless act was selfish.

When you give of your time for the praise, share Christ to add another good deed to your belt, fast because others need you as an example, you are not being selfless. If your offering comes from a sense of obligation, your service from a desire to be seen, you are serving God for the glory of yourself. The work may get done, but it is not pleasing to the Lord. It will not bring you joy.

Whatever you do - or don't do - doesn't matter. What matters is why you do (or don't do) it. And the only why that pleases Him is what you do it for His glory - not your own.

Just because the act is selfless doesn't mean you are. Do it ALL for the glory of God. He doesn't look at the outer appearance - he looks at the heart (1 Samuel 6:7).
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What does your heart look like?

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Friday, April 4, 2014

A Thorny Confession

Some of you know me well, and are familiar with my daily battle, but I've never “confessed” it publicly before. And it’s not easy to say it now. But in order to tell this story, I have to start at the beginning – with the thorn in my flesh.

Everyone knows what “a thorn in the flesh” means. Even a person who hasn't read the Bible or heard the story of Paul’s testimony from chains has surely heard the saying.  Wikipedia calls the phrase “a colloquialism used to describe a chronic infirmity, annoyance, or trouble in one's life.”

Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 12:8, that he beseeched God three times, begging Him to remove the thorn from his flesh.

I don’t know what Paul’s thorn was, but mine has a name: clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. And I think I must have prayed three bazillion times for God to remove it.

But like Paul, God’s answer to me was never “Yes.”

Years ago, during one of my quiet times with God, I read 2 Corinthians 12 for the umpteenth time, and I started “seeing the light.” I put myself in Paul’s shoes and truly opened my mind to the possibility that God’s answer was, “No.” Perhaps, like Paul, I would bear this thorn for the rest of my life. And if so, then why?

That was the moment my prayers started changing. I stopped tearfully pleading with God, “TAKE IT AWAY,” and started asking Him, “What is your purpose in this for me? What do you want me to learn? How shall I use this for your Kingdom and your Glory?”

Okay, fast-forward ==> over mountaintops ==> sliding headlong into gullies ==> repeat ==> year after year ==> ad nauseum ==> to my current valley. And it’s a doozey . . . ==> ==> ==>

I've been treading through a valley for quite some time now. I’m keeping my head above water by timely reminders from the Spirit inside me to look up and keep my eyes on Jesus. I know what it is to have joy in my heart and still be unhappy. The valley isn't a fun place--there’s not much happiness here.

Our revival preacher last week mentioned Paul and his thorn in the flesh, and I traveled back to that “aha” moment again. I realized I had forgotten the point Paul was making when he told us about his affliction.

Paul didn't want us to remember his pain. He wanted us to remember his joy in humble submission to God’s will. He wanted us to know WHY God didn't remove the one thing that made Paul weak.

God didn't tell Paul, “No, you'll just have to endure this suffering.” 

God encouraged him: “My grace is sufficient for you,” and helped him understand why: “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

And today, God spoke to me, in this dark hour of my soul, reassuring me that I don’t need to be perfect--because HE is. In fact, the more perfectly I try to perform, the less powerful HIS presence in me is. So, without weakness, His power in me isn't—can’t be—perfect.


Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7b-10  (NIV)

Peace and love,

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What Will Happen If

I’ve had an overeating problem my whole life. Just the word “diet” could send me into a feeding frenzy. I’ve known for several years that what had to occur was a lifestyle change. I’ve done well in the exercise department. But my food addiction just keeps returning.

I’ve been hearing about the Daniel Plan. Rick Warren experienced an epiphany as he baptized 827 adults. As he lowered the people into the water and lifted them back up he had a very unspiritual thought. “Wow! Everybody’s FAT!” But just as quickly came his realization that he was fat also.

That’s how the Daniel Plan was born.

As I read his book, a thought was triggered in my mind. What will happen if……” As I looked at the food I had prepared, I repeated that phrase. What will happen if I eat this? Depending upon what I’ve placed on my plate, the outcome varies. I love bread and potatoes…and very few veggies.

That’s not the Daniel Plan.

So I began to question what would happen if…? In the three weeks since I formulated that question I’ve lost eight pounds.
But that question relates to so much more. We make life choices every day that need to be considered with that query. What will happen if I go into debt for a new car? What will happen if I work 80 hours a week and ignore my family? It can also go the other way. What will happen if I set aside my desires and spend time with that elderly lady? What will happen if I sponsor a child in Africa?

As you go through this day, ask yourself what will happen if.

“Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights.” Proverbs 18:15 (MSG)

Monday, March 24, 2014

How to be Worry-Free

I know it doesn’t change a situation. It can even create some pretty serious problems. I’m talking about worrying. I don’t have to take a class to be an accomplished worrier – it’s something that comes naturally. The enemy knows exactly what buttons to push to send me off into ‘what-if’ mode (click to tweet).

A common problem

Seems I’m not the only one with the propensity to worry. The children of Israel could worry with the best of them. Remember their exit out of Egypt? The final plague had Pharaoh practically begging the Israelites to leave his land. They were free at last – 430 long years of slavery had come to an end.

I can imagine how ecstatic the people must have been. But their joy didn’t last long. In fact, it ground to a halt and quickly turned into worry when the Israelites realized Pharaoh and his army were in hot pursuit of them.

They were afraid. They cried out to the Lord and turned on Moses:

Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness…it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. Exodus 14:11,12b

A special message

But Moses shared a message from the Lord – a message of faith that could overcome even the greatest fear:

And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace. Exodus 14: 13-14

Their decision

The people had a choice to make. Would they choose fear or faith? The Lord was on their side, and as Moses stretched his hand out over the Red Sea, the children of Israel witnessed a miracle. An east wind caused the waters of the sea to be parted so they could walk through on dry ground!

As Pharaoh and his army attempted to follow them into the sea, God caused their chariots to get stuck in the sand. Mass chaos followed as Moses once again stretched his hand out over the Red Sea and the water came crashing down over the Israelites’ enemies.

Giving in to fear hadn’t changed their situation. Putting their faith in an almighty God had! Over and over again, the children of Israel were reminded that worrying didn’t accomplish anything. Their God would provide for them.

The same is true in my life. Why worry when I have God’s recipe for peace: 

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Instead of focusing on my problems, I can focus on my great God who is able to overcome any hardship I’m facing (click to tweet).

Your turn

What about you? Are you a worrier? What step will you take today to replace your fear with faith in a great God?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for reminding me that worrying is sin. Help me remember the example of the children of Israel – and choose faith over fear. Thank You for being greater than any problem I face. In Jesus’ name, Amen.   

Saturday, March 22, 2014

New - Believe It Or Not

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:5 NKJV

It's here - finally. After years (okay, maybe only months - but it sure didn't feel like it) of cold, snowy, bleak weather, it is spring on my side of the planet. Yes, two days ago was the vernal equinox - the day when astronomically we transfer from winter to spring - and head toward the heat of summer.

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Thing is, it may or may not look like it outside where you or I live. I wrote this devotional almost two weeks ago, and there are certainly VERY few signs that spring is coming. Most folks here in Michigan are fairly certain there will still be at least a bit of the 100+ inches of snow that fell over the past several month still on the ground at the beginning of April. And there are certainly no promises of above freezing temperatures every day, or lack of snowfall, once spring officially begins. In fact, as my loving husband loves to remind me, when he graduated from Central Michigan University in May of 1989, it was snowing.
But that doesn't mean it isn't spring.
No matter what it may look like, or how you or I may feel, it doesn't change the fact that the Northern Hemisphere has begun to tilt toward the sun, that daytime hours have begun getting longer and nighttime hours shorter, and that we are in a new season.
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It's like that sometimes in our Christian walk. We are His children. He loves us. He is taking care of us. That's what we know from reading His Word and the testimony of other believers. But it doesn't feel like it.

We are struggling.

We feel abandoned.

All seems lost.

Life feels cold, and we wonder if we will ever be warm again.

But just because we feel that way, doesn't mean it is true. Just because we can't sense the Lover of our Souls, the Great I Am, the Comforter, doesn't mean He is not paying attention to us. He loves us - enough to die, willingly, on a cross while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). To continually make intercession for us no matter how many times we need it (Romans 8:34). To stay beside us - to never leave nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8).
You are new - whether you feel like it or not. He is there - no matter your doubts. Believe it or not, it is spring in your soul - because of His faithfulness, not your feelings.
Thank You, Lord, for making us new. Help us to rest in that - to remember it - even and especially when we don't feel like it. Help us trust in Your promises, not our perceptions. In Your precious Son's name I pray. Amen.

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