Friday, August 26, 2011

GRACE Required

Did you ever notice how God likes to use your own words to challenge you?
This month I’ve been teaching lessons to my Sunday School class about GRACE – “getting something great that you don’t deserve.”  The lessons are not my own.  They are from a curriculum called 252basics.  Anyway, this word, “grace,” was spoken to me by a good friend today.  My friend had no idea that we were studying grace, or that the word, alone, would impact me as it did. 

People are complicated.  Relationships are complicated.  Living in this world, and brushing up against people on a regular basis causes conflict.  And today I found myself in the midst of one.  Did I handle it well?  I can only say, “I tried.”   But this conflict has driven me to my knees in prayer.  How do I show grace to someone who seems to constantly try to hurt me?  How do I love them when I don’t feel that they deserve it?  Maybe they don’t even want my love. 

Christ loved the people who nailed Him to the cross.  He showed grace even as he healed the ear of the soldier who came to arrest him.  God showed me grace by offering me a salvation that I do not deserve.  He loved me before I loved Him, and even layed down His life for me.  This is the truest picture of grace.

Do I believe that I could ever accomplish a love like that, or a grace that is so amazing?

Only by God’s grace!

The ability to give love is a gift in itself.  It is a gift from the Holy Spirit whose power resides in me.  That’s how I know that it can be done!

Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

If I could alter an old adage, I would say, “Relationships are fragile.  Handle with prayer.”  That is what I am doing today, praying for God’s grace and love to flow through me in this relationship.  I would love it if you would join with me in this prayer.  I can use all the help I can get.

My friend, Shelley Gallamore, has been blogging about conflict management all this month.  If you find yourself in a conflict, you may want to check it out at:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

So How Can It Be Done?

Yesterday I asked this question:
How can we “mingle with (the) godless” and NOT “pick up their evil ways?” 

Here's what Hosea chapter seven taught me.

First, cry out to God for help! 
It sounds basic, but God, Himself, pointed out the Israelites' failure to do this.  Perhaps if they had called out to God, the punishment could have been avoided altogether. 

Second, know God’s standards and keep them.  
I know, it's easier said than done.  Bear with me.  God’s law is clearly spelled out for us in Scripture.  If we know God’s standards, then we will recognize when they are being broken.   As a result, we will have to make a conscious choice as to whether or not we will keep those standards ourselves.

Maybe you are thinking that most of the Israelites knew God’s laws .  You are absolutely right, but they forgot them.  Just like little children who run through the halls at school or talk out loud in the library, we are forgetful too.  This is why teachers post a list of rules prominently in their classrooms and remind the students of them on a regular basis.  This brings us to action step number 3.

Third, remind yourself regularly of God’s expectations and check yourself against His ultimate standard, Christ. 

How are you doing?  What ways have you seen yourself adopt the ways of the godless? Are you laughing at inappropriate jokes?  Or telling little white lies?  Or wearing your shorts a little tighter than you used to?  Or flirting with someone who is not your spouse?  Beware those baby steps that can eventually lead us down a path to destruction.  It didn’t happen overnight with the Israelites.  Remember that God warned them constantly.  They just didn’t listen.

Are you listening?  Check yourself as David did.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Ps.139:23-24

If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.”  Exodus 33:13

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Worthless as a Half-baked Cake

Reading through the prophetic books of the Old Testament can be very eye opening.  How many times have we heard the saying, “The past always repeats itself,” and shook our heads in agreement, but not learned from it?  The Bible provides the perfect opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past.  The book of Hosea is no exception.  In this book, God speaks through His prophet, Hosea, to warn Israel of their coming punishment.  Hosea describes how the Israelites abandoned God’s ways and worshiped other gods despite Jehovah’s constant attempts to rebuke them.  Today I am struck by these words: 

“Its people (Israel) don’t realize I am watching them.  Their sinful deeds are all around them.  I see them all!  The people make the king glad with their wickedness.  The princes laugh about the people’s many lies.  They are all adulterers, … and no one cries out for help.  My people of Israel mingle with godless foreigners, picking up their evil ways.  Now they have become as worthless as a half-baked cake!” (Hosea 7:2-3,7-8, NLT)

There is a lesson to be learned here.  America has become a godless nation.  I don’t think that statement is going to shock anyone.  God and prayer have been banned from our schools.  Adultery, deception and lawlessness is so rampant that you cannot watch the evening news without seeing evidence of it.  Even many of our leaders are being found guilty of improper behavior; yet, we all shrug our shoulders saying, “who doesn’t do that now a days?”  We must not forget that God sees everything.  More importantly, we must be careful of how we respond to our cultural surroundings. 

I want to take a lesson from the book of Hosea.  I want to be sure that I am not “mingling” with those who do evil so as to “pick up their evil ways.”  I don’t want to be “as worthless as a half-baked cake!”  Does that mean that I am supposed to go and live in a commune somewhere away from all of civilization?  No.  That is not what God called anyone to do!  Christ commissioned us in Matthew 28 to go and make disciples.  You cannot do that if you are not in the world. 

So how can we “mingle with (the) godless” and NOT “pick up their evil ways?” 

Leave a comment.  I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dumb Sheep! Yes, That's Me.

If you’ve ever taught Sunday School to children, then you probably know that the teacher often gets more out of the lesson than the students do.  I taught a lesson this week on Luke chapter 15.  This passage contains the parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the prodigal child.  The lost sheep is my favorite because I love the analogy of Christ being my good shepherd.  I’m not so sure that I like being called a sheep however.  Do you know how dumb sheep are?  Sheep will wander off a cliff if no one is looking.  They don’t have any clue that there are wolves and other animals around that want to devour them.  And worst of all, they don’t realize that they NEED a shepherd.  If you could interview a sheep, I would imagine it to say about its shepherd, “He’s a great guy, but I’m not sure why he hangs around us.  He needs to get a life and let us do our thing.”  The same sheep’s story may change drastically if he ever had to be rescued just once.

The “bottom line” in the lesson last week was “Everyone needs to be rescued… even me.”  That is so true.  I am absolutely like those dumb sheep in more ways than I care to admit. 

-         I need a shepherd. 
I was headed straight for a cliff called “Hell” and I needed to be told that only Christ could save me.  For the longest time I thought I could be good enough to get to Heaven all on my own.  The Bible calls that foolishness.  How could I really believe that I could be good enough to impress God anyway?

-         I need protection, DAILY. 
There is a ravenous wolf out there wanting to devour me and my family.   Satan is very real and he delights in leading God's children astray. 

John 10:10-11 
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

I Peter 5:8
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

-         I am prone to wander.  This world has so many wonderful distractions that I tend too often to take my eyes off my shepherd.  This is when I need a reminder of the previous point!  Even the good things in life can lead to ruin if I let them take me away from my Protector who wants what is best for me.

A friend challenged me just this morning of the importance of prayer in all of life’s issues.  Too often I try to take control of my life.  I charge into my day with a plan in mind and sometimes fret over whether or not I’ve made the best choices for my family.  Do I send my 4-year-old to preschool?  If so, where?  Is it wise use of our finances?  Do I need to go get that root canal, or do I need a second opinion?  Is my teenage child’s schedule too busy?  Do I need to make a change?  Do I join a Bible study group at church this Fall?  If so, which one?  What do I cook for dinner?  When do I go to the grocery store?

There are hundreds of decisions I make in each day and I wonder how many of them I am trying to make without consulting my Shepherd.  Even more, how many are actually taking my eyes off of God and leading me down a wrong path… a path that leads only to worry, possible pain, or a false security which leaves me open to attack? 

Lord, for today, let my eyes remain on you.  Lead me in the way YOU want me to go.  Let my ears be stretching to hear your voice.  And, help this dumb sheep stay on the right path.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

… no one will ever know!

      I’ve been on one diet after another since I was about 12 years old, and not a single one of those diets would  permit me to indulge in  my favorite candy bar.  Imagine that!  I’m sure you can also imagine the number of times that I cheated on those diets.  After all, what woman can live a week without chocolate?  Sometimes I would sneak a SKOR bar into the middle of my pile of groceries and then tuck it in my purse while the bagger was doing his thing.  No one at home would be the wiser.  Of course, I would then have to consume said SKOR bar in the bathroom or behind another closed door.  I’m sure no one else has ever done this.

     What is ironic about my little escapades is that I was the one who would ultimately suffer the consequences whether I was seen or not.  I might notice a gain on the scale, but far worse than that, I would feel the guilt that inevitably follows.  I feared being caught and letting someone down, but I was really letting myself down.

     I’ve experienced the same type of guilt when watching a show on television that I know is not God honoring.  (I'm not even talking about SOAPS, although they would definitely fall into this catagory.  My bend is toward the medical drama shows.)  I would watch those shows during the day when I was home alone with little ones who didn’t know any better and wouldn’t tell if they did.  I won’t deny the attraction to some of these shows.  After all, who doesn’t like a good drama?  The problem was that people were always falling into bed with others -not their spouse - or lying to one another and cheating on each other.  Certainly not God-honoring activities to fill up my mind and my days!  Have you ever been there?  You probably wouldn’t tattle on yourself if you had!

     Why is it that we always try to hide our "little" transgressions?  Adam and Eve hid from God after eating the forbidden fruit.  (I wonder if they hid while they were eating it, too.)  Likewise, Judas when he sought to betray Jesus waited until the opportune time when very few people would be around to see him do it.  How did that work for him?  Not well at all.  Almost two thousand years have passed and yet anyone who has heard the story of Easter knows exactly what he did.  Let’s pretend for a moment that Judas' sin was not recorded in Scripture and that no one witnessed it save himself and those who paid him.  Would God still hold him accountable for his actions?  Did God see Adam and Eve behind the bushes?  Did He hold them accountable for what they had done?  Of course!  

     Our God sees everything that is done in secret.  He knows the little white lies we tell even if no one else is privy to them.  He is disappointed with our poor choices of what to watch, what to eat, what to wear or what to do with the resources He entrusts to us.   I could go on and on.  Our sins grieve Him.  My prayer is that I will feel that same grief, beg His forgiveness, and follow through with making the right choice the next time.   It's time to stop pretending that I can hide from Him and that my "little" sins don't matter.

Psalm 90:8 (NIV)
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Old Story, New Lesson

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament and today my plan led me to the book of Jonah.  I had to fight hard the urge to skip that book because I knew the story so well.  I mean, how many times have you heard or read the story of Jonah and the big fish?  Finally, I decided to give God the chance to show me something new in that old story, and WOW, did He!   

The story begins with Jonah, a prophet of God, being told to go to the city of Nineveh to tell the people to repent.  Well, Jonah thinks God is off His rocker this time and decides to ignore His command.  Actually, he doesn’t really ignore God.  He defies Him.  Jonah decides to board a ship and go across the world to escape God’s call.  Big mistake!  He ends up becoming fish food when a huge storm whips up, threatening to overturn the ship.

Can you just picture this?  Here are several non-believers, purely innocent bystanders, desperately fighting for their lives.  Jonah tells them the storm is his fault and instructs them to throw him into the sea.  Here is what I find fascinating.  Jonah does not call out to God and repent until after he is thrown overboard and half drowned.  At least, the Bible doesn’t record any repentant prayer or cry for help.  I can just see Jonah frantically slapping the water, trying with all his might to grab the nearest supply barrel that had gone over before him.  Not until he is utterly exhausted and has completely given up does he resort to prayer.  Isn’t that so like us?  We get ourselves into a sticky situation and we don’t want to ask God for help until we’ve exhausted every single resource, every solution we can dream up.  I think this is especially true when we know that we defied God and are just reaping the consequences. 

Maybe you knew God wanted you in church on Sunday and you decided to go golfing or boating instead.  Maybe, as a result of that decision, you left the plug out of the boat and it sunk to the bottom of the lake.  (I know one reader who is laughing right now because this happened to him.  Mind you, he wasn’t laughing then!)   God doesn’t always punish us so directly for our rebellion, but when he does, do we think to repent and cry out for help?  At what point does that happen… the last possible moment? 

God doesn’t sit in heaven gloating and telling us, “I told you so.”  No.  He waits patiently, longing to hear that call.  I know this because I’ve experienced it with my own children.  One of my sons gets sent to his room for talking back and being defiant.  As a Mom, I know that ignoring the offense will only cause it to be repeated.  Still, you know that all this Mommy really wants to hear is a genuine plea for forgiveness.  What does my son do instead?  He kicks and screams, and sometimes cries himself into a tizzy before finally saying those dreaded words, “I’m sorry.”

Have you gotten yourself into a mess?  Have you tried to defy God?
How long will you wait before you repent and ask Him to help you get out of that mess?

This question hits home with me today because I, like Jonah, have spent years running away from God's call.  I  have glossed over every Bible verse pertaining to gluttony and self-control with regard to food.  My resulting "mess" is the excess weight that I carry around with me every day.  Each diet I have tried has been my last ditch effort to save myself from my own mess, slapping the waves so to speak.  But God waited patiently for my call.  Today, I stand repentant (and forgiven) of my disobedience and lack of self-control.  While I beg God daily to help me shed my excess baggage, I can joyfully report that He is showing Himself faithful.  I am seeing the light of day.  Praise Him for His patience and ever loving mercy!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tribute to My Mother

Today's blog hop topic is: how are you alike and different from your mother?
I think I'll just have fun with this one.

Growing up, my mom and I were always asked if we were sisters. Yes, there is no denying that I get my looks from her. I use to wonder if that was a compliment or an insult. Did I look old, or did she look young? I soon decided that it was a promise of a good looking future. At least, that's the hope. My mom is truly beautiful and always has been, inside and out.

Judging from that last comment, you may deduce that I am quite the optimist. This quality, I believe, comes from my mother as well. Her optimism, coupled with her gift of mercy, helps her to always see good in people. She always gives others the benefit of the doubt. I find myself imitating this when my own children come to me with a complaint about someone. I count myself fortunate to have learned from the best.

When it comes to our differences, well, my mother is one of the most selfless people I know. This, I wish, she had passed on to me. She will drop what she is doing to attend to the needs of another. That is why she made such a great church secretary for so many years,and also why she was "Mom" to far more children than she actually bore. Mom also loves to serve behind the scenes. In contrast, I tend to chose the ministries where I am surrounded by people. We both enjoy teaching, but her teaching tends to come more from example or one-on-one counseling. I have been blessed greatly through the years by her counsel.

I graduated college.  My mom never went.  She married early instead, and learned from life as she raised her four children. While I made all "A"s in school, I had no boyfriends. I was a bit chubby. That didn't help. She, on the other hand, had many boyfriends and was thin as anyone would dream to be. She grew up in the country, I in the city.  These are the differences that stand out to me in this moment. 

I could probably go on about being the same height, and coloring our hair in our thirties, loving to play Scrabble and being married to men who hate the game, but none of that really matters all that much.  What matters is that we are best friends and I will cherish her always.

Proverbs 31:28-29                                        
Her children arise and call her blessed;
   her husband also, and he praises her:
Many women do noble things,
   but you surpass them all.

I love you mom!

Footnote:  My mother is the grammatic genius in the family and she usually edits my postings.  This one I wanted to be a surprise, so please forgive any mistakes.

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