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Whose Strength?

But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Psalm 22:19

Rabbi David Wolpe tells the story of a father and son walking along a path. They come across a huge rock in the road. The son flexes his muscle and asks if his father thinks he can move it. The father answers, “Of course, if you use all of your strength.” The son tries and tries, but it barely budges. He gives up, exhausted. “You said I could move it if I used all my strength. You were wrong.” The father crouches down to his eye level. “But you didn’t use all of your strength. You didn’t ask me for help.”

When I heard that my heart crunched. How often have I relied on my own strength thinking God prepares me for whatever comes along so I can handle it myself? True to my Anglo heritage, I put on a stiff upper lip and soldier on. Then alone in my room, exhausted and frustrated, I admit my weakness and cry out as tears flow.

When did I forget that I can only do all things through Christ who gives me strength, not because Christ has given me the strength to do it on my own? (Philippians 4:13). He prepares me by teaching me to trust Him. He comes alongside and adds His power to my powerlessness. In my weakness, I am made strong because I lean on Him through faith in Him, not in my abilities.

Paul knew this. He told the Corinthians in his second letter- But he [Christ] 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 (12:9).

Life has a habit of dropping boulders in our path. Illness, job loss, divorce, death, betrayal. Instead of asking for God to give us the strength to endure, let us ask our Father to use His strength to help us. He will help us find a way around it, under it, over it, or to move it away.  We were never meant to battle this world on our own. Our faith is not weak if we cry out for help. Our strength is multiplied when we apply faith to our situation and ask Dad for help.

Lord, teach me to lean on You more and less on myself. As I get older, there are more and more things I can’t do on my own. I need Your strength. In my weakness I am becoming stronger because You are right there with me, helping me. Thank you, Dad, for coming each time I call on You. May I return the favor and come each time You call on me to be Your example of love to the world.  Amen.

 

 

Return to Sender

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you” (Luke 10:5-6).

We read this passage in Luke today in church. The last phrase became clear to me in a new way. If not, it will return to you. 

In other words, be at peace no matter what happens. You cannot control other’s reactions, only your own. Don’t let their negativity infect you.

Christ teaches us to pray for our enemies, even love them. We are to forgive others because Christ has forgiven us. We are to be the peacemakers, peace distributors, and peace dwellers.

There is a skit on Christian radio. A policeman pulls over a lady and is surprised to discover she is the owner of the car because it has a Christian symbol on the bumper. “The way you have been driving and acting, I thought it was stolen,” he says.

Recent events in the United States have produced hideous violence that is spreading like wildfire. I saw this happening in the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement and in the 1970s protesting the war in Vietnam. What started as peaceful demonstrations voicing opinions turned into angry, destructive mobs. Those proclaiming that lives mattered and love was the answer soon forgot that was their message and became just the opposite in behavior. History repeats. It is sad to see.

I also am seeing a great deal of hate and slander being spread on social media. Much by so-called Christ-followers. This is not the way Christ wants us to act. He was not a rabble-rouser. Christians, let us be the ones who spread peace, not violence. Those who spread love, not hate, and forgiveness, not blame.

We have all sinned. None of us are righteous, except in Christ and through Christ alone. The writer to the Hebrews reiterated this: Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Everyone, even those with whom we disagree.

Please join me. Be a pebble that begins the ripple of peace in your community. Stop the hate. Stop the slander on social media and in conversations of those with whom you disagree politically.

Yes, we have a right to express our opinion and preserve our freedoms. Many are in danger of dissolving. That is what the ballot box is for. But honestly, if I am set in my ways and you are set in yours, there is very little we can do to change each others’ minds.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Let’s not block Him from flowing in, though, and from us into the world. Anger rarely resolves anything. Instead of badmouthing them, pray for them.

Spead love and peace and let it return to you. Pray for those who need Jesus in their lives. Yield to those in authority because God has placed them there for a reason (Romans 13:1-7). As Paul warned, You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat (Romans 14:10).

We all will answer to One person in the end. What we give, we will receive once again. The boomerang effect. Whatever we send will be returned to the sender.

 

It Takes Skill

Sometimes it just jumps out at me from the Bible. Today, I found a message from our Lord in Psalm 47:

For God is King of all the earth; sing praise with all your skill. (verse 7)

We praise God by doing what He has designed us to do. All of creation does. Trees praise Him by leafing out each spring and providing shade in the summer, then becoming colorful in the fall, and losing their leaves as the sap drops in winter. Birds praise Him by singing. The sun and moon praise Him by rising and setting.

We praise Him with the skill He has designed in us. We each have one. A gift that He slowly develops in us the way a piano teacher trains a child prodigy to play his best.

Maybe it is patiently raising active children. Maybe it’s writing, like me. Maybe it is extending hospitality to others, or giving grace to the invisible in our society. Perhaps you are a super organizer, a motivator, or an empathizer. You are good with your hands, skilled with mechanical things, or can see inside people and help them see themselves.

Each time we use our individual skills, we glorify the Creator who provides them. True, we can try to claim the glory, but that will eventually lead to our downfall. Even then, God will be glorified when we are redeemed from self-centered sin and brought to repentance.

Never think you have nothing to contribute. Someone somewhere needs your skills. God made you for a purpose. Yield to Him and let Him bring out the best in you. Then praise Him with your life.

 

 

HOW MANY CROSSES DO YOU SEE?

Yep, I said crosses, plural. Sure, there is the pottery one hanging on my patio wall. But do you see others? Look carefully.

Each window pane has a cross. If you look at the balconies, the rails form two crosses when viewed with the door jambs.  The roof of the carport to the left lines up with the edge of the building, making a cross-shaped image. Can you find anymore now that you have had a few clues?

The point is, we often are too focused on the obvious to see the serendipities God brings into our day.  Little things, which prove He is there and cares, go unseen.  It may take focus, imagination, or seeing things in a new way to spot these.

That is sort of what this blog is all about…detecting God-moments and messages in our lives.

The more you open your mind and eyes to seek Him, the more evidence you will find of His presence. Look out your window. How many things remind you of His presence? His all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect nature? His grace and mercy? Does that not make you smile and lift your spirits?

If we concentrated more on seeking God in our lives instead of finding fault in ourselves and others, wouldn’t it change not only our outlook but that of those we encounter?

My mother, who was a teacher, said that when we’re taught in school to find “what is wrong with this picture”  or to decide “which answer is not correct” it trains our minds to see things in a negative way. She never put questions that required a negative response as the correct one on her tests.

Retrain the brain. For one week, whenever a negative thought tries to surface, seek a positive reminder of God’s love instead. Then thank Him.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12:1b-2a.

I hung up a bird feeder to see if I could attract birds, now that I no longer have cats. I poured in easy pickings especially blended for songbirds.

However, I am not sure I will attract any birds because the AC units are right outside of my apartment patio. One, in particular, services my neighbor upstairs. It is rather noisy. And he likes his place to be kept cool, so it kicks on all day and night.

This situation made me think about how many times the noise in my life keeps me from hearing the still, small voice of my loving Father as relayed through the Holy Spirit. How often do I miss out on His blessings because I am not intuned to His holy whispers?  When have I been so distracted seeking what I need that I have not seen what is right in front of me?

Will I fly by as I search for something else, or will I stop and perch in His presence, tasting that the Lord is good?

I hope little sparrows, cardinals, and finches find my feeder chock full of seeds. I’d even enjoy seeing a bushy-tailed squirrel precariously dangling on it trying to get the corn and sunflower husks. I hope they will find the good things and decide to partake, and not be distracted by the rattletraps humming below.

I also hope the same for you and me. May the noise of our world never drown out the wonderful, loving messages from our Lord.

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. Psalm 78:1

 

P.S. Four days later: Three sparrows and two finches have found my feeder!

Stretch to Grow

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.  Colossians 2:6-7

Three years ago I posted the saga of my now 45-year-old corn plant. Back then, at about 3 1/2 feet tall, it had pretty much stagnated in growth. Today it has grown to 5 feet high.

Why am I telling you this?  First, in my new space, it has a more constant, diffused light. Southern exposure provides it a soft, strong source of continuous sunrays. And it has taken off.

I recently did something else to it. My son and I transplanted it into a much larger pot. It had become root-bound. Poor thing. One bag of enriched soil later, it was safely settled into its new surroundings and place back by in the southern exposure window it loves. NOw it has stretched its leaves to a full, luscious green canopy.

So, why am I telling you this??? Are we not the same? We all love our comfort zones, but we don’t grow well in familiarity. Life is about change. If change doesn’t occur, how will we grow? How will we expand our thoughts, stretch our imaginations, and flourish in our faith?

Sometimes I think God puts us in new situations for our own good. We have become root-bound, wound up in our own little world. We need to have fresh fertile soil and new boundaries to reach out.

One thing I know from experience is that God always makes good out of difficult situations. I see a lot of good coming out of this pandemic. People have reevaluated what is important. Many have turned back to God for answers, support, and comfort. Neighbors who barely knew each other are pitching in to help each other, even if it is at six feet distances. Folks are more “other conscious” and friendly. There is a bond that grows from shared experiences that strengthens cities, communities, and people. It is like the mortar joining bricks in a wall.

Maybe we’ve just been transplanted into a larger situation right now. It may feel uncomfortable to unwind from our tightly-balled comforts, but as we extend out, we will grow…stronger, better, and more beautiful as long as we dig our roots into the One who gave us life, and by His merciful grace extends it into eternity for those who believe.

And the more we bask in continuous soft and nourishing Light of The Word, we will grow in the right direction.  Standing tall in our faith, rooted in Christ.

Revealed

We read the Scripture passage of 1Peter 1:3-9 in our online service this week.  What hit my heart anew was verse seven: These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

I always took that to be somewhat apocalyptic. But today I see it in a new way.

They say hindsight is 20/20. I often do not see Jesus moving in my life until after the fact. Perhaps I am concentrating too much on the “now” to see the eternal. But suddenly the light dawns and I see He was there all along, steadily working out His plan in the background. I see how He purposes good from what seemed distressful and even evil, like the proverbial silver lining at the end of a storm. Then I  “give thanks in all circumstances”, as Paul reminds us to do in 1Thessalonains 5:18.

What we are living through now definitely fits the definition of a trial by fire.  Perhaps during this time, we are being purified by God’s holy furnace. The dross of our modern world, which once captured our attention, is melting away. We are hopefully drawing closer to God and, even though we can’t be physically together, we are more together because we realize how important our friends and family are and we miss them so dearly. Our values have been readjusted.

My prayer is that during this time, Jesus will be revealed in your heart, mind, and soul. I pray you will, by your testimony of the “great things He hath done”,  reveal Him to others who so desperately need to “see” Him revealed in their lives. Especially now.

May we all give Him the praise, glory, and honor.

Spinning

You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. Jonah 2:3

It was an unpleasant experience, to say the least.  The room spun so fast I lost all sense of balance, like a bug on a ceiling fan at high speed. I couldn’t walk. I had no bearings. I had to clamp my eyes closed, deciding that the swirling darkness was not as nauseating as seeing the room whirl backward.

After about an hour, it was not calming down. I crawled to my cell phone and called 911. The EMTs got there quickly but I had to trust these strangers to lead me to the gurney, into the ambulance, and head off to the ER. Then wheel me out, push me backward down the hall, and into an exam room. I also had to trust the nurses, CT tech and ER doctors to figure out what was wrong and how to treat it.

For the next three hours, I spun in darkness until the meds kicked in. All due to an inner ear infection. Tiny crystals in one of our smallest organs got out of whack and sent my world into turmoil without warning. How amazing!

Life can do something similar to us. We can lose our bearings. We grope for answers. Illness, economics, tragedies, and pandemics whirl us around to where we don’t know what is up or down.

But in the midst of all of this is one fact. God is there. My prayers were my anchor that day. I held on tight, trying to keep calm until His peace waved over me instead of panic. Jonah, swallowed into the belly of the whale, was saved from drowning.  I, strapped to a gurney, was saved from falling. We both learned a vital lesson anew. God has a purpose for everything. Even in the direst of circumstances.

I realized that I can depend on Him, and those He sends to assist me. I am not alone, even though I live alone. This too will pass. He continues to be my stronghold. I won’t spin out of control. Help is available.

I hope you have discovered the same thing during all the chaos of social distancing and isolation. I hope you have drawn closer to God and realized that the things that matter in life are not the material ones. We all need each other, and we need Him.

I pray you stay safe and hang onto the Rock. He is our sure foundation. That is a promise we can stand upon, no matter how wobbly we feel.

 

 

 

Comfy?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

We all have our comforts. I love soft things and warm things. Curling up in a fleece throw with a cuppa warms my body…and my soul. And right now, we could all use some comfort.

But, the cup of hot tea or coffee soon disappears or grows cold. The throw needs washing. Neither is lasting.

Paul talks of another comfort. God is comfort. He never promised His children would be comfortable, but that He would provide comfort. Jesus warned his disciples (and us) that in this world there would be trouble. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33  And wow. Is there ever trouble in the world!

Jesus tells us that even in the midst of trouble we can have peace. We can take heart. He’s got this. He not only knows what is happening but He knows what tomorrow will bring and is already preparing our hearts for it if we let Him. We can find comfort in that fact.

Paul agrees, but he doesn’t stop there. He tells the Corinthian Church, and us, to take that comfort and go comfort others. In this time of isolation, you’d think this modern “me society” would retreat even further into the world of “I”. But more and more we hear stories of people stepping out to help others, to be considerate and keep a safe distance from others, and to wear protective gear. To check on elderly neighbors, and to thank those who have essential jobs and risk exposure.  We are discovering creative ways to connect without touching. People are rediscovering that we need each other, and more than that, we need God.

Each day, as we become more and more isolated, let us not forget to receive comfort from God and then pass it on to others. Perhaps they will pass it on to another person and that person will feel encouraged to do the same. Soon, instead of anxiety and fear, there will be a blanket of peace cloaking our neighborhoods. A warmed cup of camaraderie to ooze the souls in our cities.

A comforting thought, isn’t it?

 

 

courtesy Alexiscorvus | Dreamstime.com –

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18

Many of you have heard the adage that FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. But right now, what’s going in isn’t false. It is very, very real. So I am offering another anacronym:

Facing Evil Alone Repeatedly

As we choose to hole up and isolate ourselves from other people in order to thwart the spread of COVID19, let us not retreat into our own fears. Yes, it might seem nice at first to have time to read, watch TV, or do hobbies. But retreating into yourself is fodder for trouble. There is an old saying that states the devil divides.

 

But God unites.

Even if we cannot attend church, we can still call each other, text each other, email each other, or Skype or Facetime with each other. Frequently check on your friends, families, and the elderly.  Today we have amazing technology that allows us to communicate. Let us use it to pray and fellowship together.

Do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

Just because we cannot touch each other doesn’t mean we can’t stay in touch.

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