Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dance, I say

What happens when we receive a gift from God and we don't acknowledge it? What if God were to waltz into your kitchen and cook up a delightful feast and you decide not to eat it? By rejecting his food, are you rejecting God? Oh yes, I believe so. 

God wants us to be happy. He wants us to feel. He wants us to find joy in the gifts he gives us. Sometimes we may want all of these things, too, but we are afraid of the stares, comments and ridicule we may receive from those around us. Sometimes it is hard to be the first to step outside of the norm. 

I was recently reading Matthew 11:17, We played the flute for you, and you did not dance... " and, in the process of my studies, I had listened to a short sermon on it. Pastors Kris Langham and Jonathan Ferguson from Through the Word likened this to a school dance. Do you remember yours? 

Anticipation builds as kids wait weeks for the dance. Days are filled with finding a date, shopping for the just the right dress/matching suit, gossiping over who is wearing what and who is going with whom. Then, at last, the day of the dance finally arrives -- the gym is transformed into a fairy-tale setting, the DJ is ready to start blaring his tunes, and the magical moments of memories begin. Except, well, no one is brave enough to step out on the dance floor first! All the kids, decked out in their best school dance attire, stand along the wall, just holding it up.

Why do you think that is? I guess it could vary for each, but I think it all boils down to a lack of confidence -- in ourselves, in our faith. 

See, God gave us music and he wants us to dance. But we focus too much of our time worrying about what everyone else will think that we don't dance. Maybe - in grown up life - it isn't that we are necessarily worried what everyone else will think, but rather we are too busy worrying in general. We spend a lot of time worrying and stressing about our jobs, bills, kids, etc., and not enough time enjoying the precious gifts we receive from our dear God. After all, God has everything taken care of already -- what are you worrying for? (I know, I know... that is a whole different blog for an entirely different day) 

Have faith that you are who God made you to be and have faith that He will provide for your every need. And since you have that covered, take a moment today and make God smile -- turn on some music and dance! Let go and just be!

Monday, September 19, 2016

He gives and He takes away

He was just another man in the park. He was hunched over on a bench staring out into the Intracoastal. He watched people as they walked by -- smiling, nodding. He saw a woman with a dog and held out his hand to show the dog he meant no harm. He was quiet, otherwise. He read his books. Book after book, he read. He even claims to have read the bible several times, cover to cover. He didn’t bother anyone. Even on nights when he was able to collect enough money to buy some beer. He still didn’t bother anyone. He drank his beer on his bench, watching the boats come and go, carrying people of lives different than his. He gets a bag of food and some room temperature bottles of water on this hot day. He smiles and throws his hands up to the sky, “Thank you God you answered my prayers!”

He is the least of these.

His eyes are bright blue. Piercing blue. His hair white with traces of blond and his skin a dark shade of tan. He has been living on the streets for a couple of years now. He had a home. A nice one. He had a job, too. In fact, it wasn’t just any job – he owned the company. He even had a wife and a dog. And then one day his wife got sick. He spent every last dime he had – literally -  to get her the treatment she needed to save her life. He adored her so much that he let her carry his heart in her hands. It wasn’t long until the treatment failed and she lost her battle. He buried her, still holding his heart. A few months later his dog went home to be with her. A broken - and broke - man in an empty house, he turned to anything he could in order to numb his pain. Do you blame him?


He is the least of these. 

She has never told me how she got there, she is just always there. She has made a home on the streets and those who come and go are her family. She organizes, shares, looks out for everyone she meets. She has good intentions, always. But her addiction is hard to fight so she gets sidetracked easily. She was going to get baptized once. She was excited. She told us all about it - when, where, what she was going to wear. We told her we would be there for her... to support her decision. She never showed up. "She isn't feeling well," that is what we were told. We later learn that a man she keeps company with is quite controlling and possibly abusive. She loves him. She wont leave him. Her vicious cycle continues.

She is the least of these. 

She had always wanted to be a nurse. She wanted to help people and knew that she would be good at it. Instead of pursuing her career, she dedicated her life to her family and keeping her home filled with joy, laughter and support. She nurtured her loved ones with every fiber of her being, never disappointing her husband or their children. The day she lost him, though, she lost a piece of herself. With the kids grown, she had no one left to look after. She didn't have long trying to find her new place in the world before her health began failing. She felt helpless and alone for the first time. Who was she going to lean on? Who would be there for her? 

She is the least of these. 

They live in a run-down single room efficiency. With barely enough money to make ends meet, he works hard to provide as best as they can for his young bride and their newborn baby boy. He leaves home for work before the sun rises while she keeps herself busy making their tiny space a home. She sews bright curtains for their 2 tiny windows out of scrap fabric, she uses her talents to paint a mural on the far wall to make the room shine brightly. Her favorite day of the week is Friday. This is when she gathers up as much extra food as they can spare and puts bags together for some neighborhood kids. Sometimes its a couple of pb&j sandwiches, a couple pieces of fruit or some crackers. Other times she will find a sale on bologna and cheese. Yet at other times, its just fruit and crackers. This food allows these kids to eat over the weekend since they are not at school to receive a meal. Yes, she has so little, but gives so much. 

She is the least of these. And she helps the least of these. 

So who are the "least of these," you ask? They are the faces of God. They are the hungry, the thirsty, the helpless and the hurting... "Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'" Matthew 25:37-40 (NLT)

God works through us. He expects us to do as he would. His love in us shines brighter each time we help those who need us. It is a very important part of what it means to be a Christian. Do you honestly think you encounter people in life by accident or coincidence? No, no, friend. There is a reason."With every bone in my body I will praise him: "Lord, who can compare with you? Who else rescues the helpless from the strong? Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?" - Psalm 35:10 (NLT) 

Turning away from someone because they may not be at the same place in life as you is going against God. We have all been given many blessings and skills. I sometimes think that God gives us these things just to see what we will do with them. Opportunities, money, gifts -- They aren't ours. Therefore, what you have... give it away. You may be surprised at just how you full you feel when you do. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Don't just smack the hurdle - jump it!

What does it mean to forgive? Let's get technical  for a moment, shall we? 

Forgive: "verb stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong): to stop blaming (someone): to stop feeling anger about (something): to forgive someone for (something wrong)..." (Merriam-Webster)

Easier said than done, right? I'll be honest, I don't really have a hard time forgiving folks...for most things. After all, I have done my fair share of crap over the years and I am thankful for the forgiveness I have received from those around me. Besides, who wants to hold on to anger and grudges? -- those aren't any fun! 

But what about something BIG? What if it is more than just forgiving your sister for sneaking something to wear from your closet? What if someone has physically hurt you? What if someone has seriously done wrong to someone you love? What if the actions of this person has caused your life to be different than what you had dreamed of? (whoa, hold up... side thought -- do we really give people that much power?!)

Forgiveness is hard when referring to something severe. Sometimes we try to ignore it rather than face it head on -- i.e. it seems easier to knock the hurdles down (aggressively) than to jump over them. This has been weighing on my heart recently and, because of that, I have been doing a lot of reading, thinking/reflecting and, well... God has got to be tired of hearing me blab! But, really... I know I am not the only one that struggles with this so I feel compelled to share. 

If I asked you who was the single most important person to you, you would likely say God, right? You win an award, you thank God. You sit down to a nice meal, you thank God. You get your broken AC fixed in the middle of summer, you thank God. So I think it is safe to say that his opinion is pretty darn important, right?? Well... let me just tell you what He says... "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48 NKJV).

But...but... but... we aren't perfect, are we? We can't be perfect! We are sinners! We make mistakes! We are HUMAN! Yes, indeed, you sure are. 

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15) 

God forgives us. 

It doesn't matter what sins or wrongs we have committed because ultimately, with repentance, we are forgiven. That is why Jesus died on that cross -- for our imperfections. So those who have wronged you, they deserve forgiveness, too, since Jesus died for all the "whosoevers" in the world -- not just for you.

Maybe you don't think that person deserves it. Maybe they didn't learn their lesson and will do the same thing again next week and next month and 3 years from now. Maybe a piece of your heart is broken due to the pain or heartache. But it just isn't a place to stick your nose. The actions of that person will be something that God will work out with him/her. Not you. No way Jose, think again. That is not why you are here.  

Paul tells us that God wants us to "...be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32) If someone is unkind to you, are you to be unkind to them? No. Love them. I'll say it again. Love them. Forgive them. Do good things for them. Be kind. Be patient. Set an example. Luke 6:27 says, "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." A lot of people hated Jesus. He loved them. He still does. 

I know some scars run deep and forgiveness is not something that can happen overnight. Boy, do I know. But it is something to work on - daily. Baby steps. Seek God and ask for him to guide you. He can show you ways to forgive. And, once that day comes, you will feel so incredibly free. I promise you. 

***UPDATE: It is funny how this seems to happen. Shortly after writing this blog and publishing it, I was checking out CNN online. I started reading a story called, "Real 'Fault In Our Stars' Couple Takes a Tragic Turn"  ...You will have to read the story, but as the girl is talking about God taking her home she says this: "Just love each other," she said. "If somebody makes you mad, just forgive them." A simple and pure statement from someone who is running out of time to forgive. Wait - Aren't we all running out of time?  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Scratchy, Scratchy

You have 22 minutes until your kids will be home from school and you want to finish reading as much of your latest book as possible. You are relaxed, kindle clutched in your hands, you exhale and begin reading. You tell yourself, twenty-two minutes and no distractions. Then it happens. Just a little at first. A small persistent itch in the middle of your back. You know you do not have much time, so you try to remain focused on your book. Keep reading, it will go away. It doesnt stop. Now it is growing stronger and you find yourself unable to comprehend what you are reading. Gotta scratch! Gotta scratch!! Oh my goodness! Scraaaaatchhhh!!!!! You drop the kindle in your lap and head straight for the attack. Except there is only one problem: You cannot reach it. No matter which angle you try, the itch is just out of reach of your fingertips. Now you have to jump up, find the nearest corner in your house to slide your back on - back and forth - until it goes away. Those 22 minutes? Now you are down to about 8. 

Has this ever happened to you? Can you relate it to a similar situation? How many times have you had something that you wanted to do and, no matter how hard you tried or how meticulously you planned, something kept you from doing it? Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV) tells us that, "A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." Though, if you really think about it, sometimes it is as if we pull up our britches, put our thumbs in our ears, wiggle our fingers and stick our tongues out and tell God, "Thanks, but no thanks...I prefer to make my own route." I do not know what in the world makes us think we can tell God which way we want to go. Yet, we do. All the time.

Follow your wants and this is likely how life turns out... 

Perhaps a better suggestion would be to follow what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 (NKJV), "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." See, Jesus says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also," Matthew 6:21. Our treasures are our desires. They are our likely selfish wants in life. If our eyes are not focused on God and letting him direct our paths, then our hearts are following the wrong treasure. 

If you want to read and you get a persistent urge to do something else (i.e. scratch yourself) -- is that a coincidence? Is the itch merely just an itch? Or if, on the way to head out to a late night movie you suddenly get a strong urge to watch a movie with your kids at home instead. Do you think it is coincidence? Maybe some connection with your child that night is meant to come back to them later on in life? Maybe they would have missed that if you weren't there? You go to college to become a defense lawyer. You give up a huge chunk of your life to studying and finally finish. Your plan is to score a position with a big firm, making enough money to live a very, very comfortable life. Instead, you find yourself working in the Public Defender's office and your heart gets filled by the indigent folks you come in contact with. You cannot seem to quit. That very comfortable life came about, just with a different treasure than money. Coincidence? 

My point is, God always has us on a path. We may make our own route (or at least think that we are) but those are just simply short detours. After all, I am sure God knows some of us will meander a lot more than others. He is always there trying to pull us back. Some urges are extremely persistent and they don't go away until you address them. And, quite often, when you direct your attention to that urge, you may discover a greater peace at the end of that particular path. Was that God? I like to think so. 

This blog came about because of an extremely persistent urge. Perhaps it is meant for you. 

There are no coincidences in life. Listen for God. If you don't hear him, ask him to show you. Then be patient. 

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Introducing Herschel

I have a confession to make. 

I like music. A lot. In fact, I love music. I have always felt such a connection with it that, at times, I don't even think its normal. If I am not listening to music, I am singing it - either out loud or in my head. 

Quite a while ago I came to the realization that if I were to think back to a time in my life when I was filled with such happiness, a great deal of that time was when I was part of a band. I associate those times with some of the most amazing feelings of fullness. The coming together of a group, taking a piece of music so raw and scratchy and turning it in to the most beautiful sounds. I have always been one to get chills when on stage and I'll admit I was moved to tears a time or two...while playing. 

Many people can appreciate this, many cannot. 

I've dabbled in different instruments over the years, but, just in case you don't already know, the clarinet is my favorite. In fact, I love my clarinet so much he has a name -- Herschel. See what I mean about thinking my love of music is not normal? ha!

Anyways... I have recently joined a community band and just the first practice has sent my heart soaring. It felt WONDERFUL to play Herschel with these folks. I have been on cloud 9 since. 

My confidence level is not where it used to be, though. After all, I am not as good as I once was and I think that line keeps bouncing around in my head. I love playing with other folks, but playing the solo artist? Not so much. So the other day I was being goofy and recorded myself playing a portion of a Mozart piece I have been practicing. This was a way for me to share my music without being put on the spot, so-to-speak.

I played this recording for a couple of people. Afterwards, this happened: My partner pulls me aside to tell me that she almost feels like I am cheating people out of a gift of mine. That God gave me a talent and its almost not being fair that I keep it behind closed doors and not share. 

Yeah, that really got me. She is always so good at getting me to see things in a different light.

I am self conscious of my ability, hard on myself and always looking for perfection. Yet,  on the other hand, I can use this gift and praise God with it,  right?  Duh. Why didn't I think of that? I can make music and bring people together in fellowship. I can work with the worship team at church and lift up the melody to God. 2 Chronicles 5:13 (NKJV) says, " indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying: For He is good, For His mercy endures forever."

Music is sweet and God is good. Keep the praising goin 'til next time! 

Oh and,  just for the fun of it, check this out... I cannot believe in my whole life I have never heard this.  I am in love... Sigh... Adios! 


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Preach without words

Did you brush your teeth?

Because I am your mother, that's why.

Were you born in a barn? Shut the door! 

Always wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident.

Im going to change my name from Mom.

Use good judgment.

You are who you hang out with.

Yep. Right there, that last one. There are other versions, too. For instance - "a man is known by the company he keeps" or Booker T Washington's "Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than in bad company." And, last but not least, the possibility of falling into the trap of being "guilty by association."

In case you didn't know, I am going to share a little secret with you: Moms are always right and all of their sayings are going to come back to haunt you one day. You may have brushed it off when you were a kid, but I am sure at least once in life so far you have had to suddenly stop to catch your breath as you picture your mom's face and say, "holy cow, she was right!" And if this hasn't happened to you yet, it will...just wait.

Let's take a minute to talk about those folks you associate with. Have you taken your mom's advice about who you spend time with? We change and grow as we navigate through life. So what happens if you wake up one day and find out that who you associate with doesn't really fit your mold anymore? Do you just walk away? And if you cant walk away for one reason or another... Do you just allow yourself to continue to associate with those your mother warned you about? 

At some point you may find yourself in this sticky situation. We cannot always just walk away from associations... life is just not that easy. For instance, if you do not agree with your co-workers or the mother of your child's best friend, you cannot just forget they exist! Maybe you sit on a board and have to associate with a group of people each week that you may find "different." You cannot just walk away. So the question becomes - how do you handle these situations? How do you hold steadfast to your Christian beliefs and positive nature when surround by those who try to sway you or bring you down? 

1 Corinthians 15:33 (NIV) says, "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.'" And if your eyes are not opened, this can happen. (I think that is what your mom was always getting at.) But we don't always have to be misled by "bad company." We could place a spin on this...  

Instead of choosing to separate our associates/friends as "good and bad" and "us and them," what if we choose to let God use us in this situation? Instead of distancing ourselves for fear that we will become "guilty by association," what if we share God's love? 

Because I have personally struggled with this and have asked God for his guidance, my eyes have been opened when reading lately. I have found that I just absolutely love Hebrews 12:1 (NLT): 

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."

In my head, I am picturing myself running with all that energy I have, jumping over hurdles, barreling toward the finish line, not letting ANYTHING get in my way. (ok, maybe this is because I have been watching the Olympics a lot lately). But, really - it reminds me that even if I am surrounded by people that I disagree with, I am also surrounded by many winners. I am following in the footsteps of Jesus - the greatest winner! I am holding on to joy and looking for victory. I will not be held back by those who choose a different path! 

I will not fall victim to the sins of this world due to the company I keep. Instead, I will be a carrier of light to lead them from darkness.

You may not always be in a position to get all "preachy" with your friends/associates, but the manner in which you lead your life is an example. You can preach without using a single word. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

He opened his eyes.

Do you ever feel like you are not worthy enough -- or qualified -- to do something? I feel like that sometimes when it comes to spreading God's word and sharing in my writing. I mean, think about it -- its GOD's word. You cannot really get any BIGGER or more important than that! Every now and then I wonder - who am I to think that I can take on such a task? After all, I do not claim to be a scholar when it comes to the Bible. Heck, my family didn't even really go to church while I was growing up! So how can my amateur musings have any impact on anyone? 

Now, let me tell you what I discovered the other day. Have you met Paul (aka Saul)? Paul holds a huge place in the Bible, turning many people to Christ, both in Biblical times and still today through his writings in the New Testament. But before he began down that path, Paul fought against Christians! Acts 9:1 (NIV) says he "...was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples." Jesus spoke to Paul and questioned his actions. It was at that time he made him blind -- for 3 days! Then the Lord sent Ananias to Paul and had him place his hands over his eyes. He told Paul..."the Lord - Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here - has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Acts 9:17. He opened his eyes.

He once was blind and now he can see. He once persecuted Jesus and his followers and now he has become one! The true work of the Holy Spirit!

Here is what got me: Paul was a new Christian, but he immediately began to preach. All he started with was by sharing that "...Jesus is the Son of God." Acts 9:20 (NIV). Those 6 words are powerful. He didn't have to know the intricacies. He just needed to know - and BELIEVE - that Jesus is the Son of God. Once he began sharing, God built the fire up in him as he "...grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah." Acts 9:22 (NIV). Paul went on to impact people in many different areas by letting God lead him. 

Let me leave you with this -- Paul proves that it doesn't matter who you are, where you came from, what you have or haven't done in life. If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then you know that you are called according to God's purpose. Remember, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) He will give you everything you need to pursue your gift, even when you feel incapable, unqualified or unworthy. Start with what you know and HAVE FAITH. He will carry you through.