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Monday, February 28, 2011

Like a Sheep in Green Pastures or a Rat in the Race?

Ever wonder what your life looks like to others? Do people see you as frantic or peaceful? Hurried or rested? Climbing and striving or contented and calm?

To put it in the vernacular of Psalm 23, do you look like that sheep lying down in green pasture? You know the one. The contented sheep that doesn't want for anything because luscious green grass and smooth flowing water is its daily diet. The one that is constantly watched over by an attentive, generous, and protective shepherd. The one that lies down and dreams of abundance and satisfaction, knowing full well that all its dreams will indeed come true. Does your life look like that? Does mine? I wonder.

We all like to quote Psalm 23, but do we live like it's factual?

Why do I ask, you might wonder. Well I'll tell you why.

This morning as I read Leviticus 25 I was reminded that our "restfulness" is very important to God. When He brought His people out of their despair and bondage in Egypt and took them to a land flowing with milk and honey, He instructed them to rest there. He knew that they would be prone to work hard to save for a rainy day (they'd seen a few), they'd be tempted to be all work and no play (that had been their lifestyle in Egypt, after all), they would probably lean toward hoarding, selfishness, and greed (that's what happens when you haven't had much to call your own in the past), and they might begin to think any success or abundance they achieved was all according to their own hard work, prompting them to work all the harder.

But God wanted them to rest instead.

God wanted His people to be a well-cared-for people. He wanted other nations to look at them and notice that they had plenty and yet they weren't striving and fretting. He wanted other people to envy the Israelites, to want what they had, to desire their lifestyle. He wanted the nations around them to sit up and take notice of the fact that
  • the Israelites only worked 6 days a week but had sufficient provision for the 7th day.
  • they took ample time off throughout the year to worship their God and celebrate His goodness, but they never seemed to lack during those "vacations."
  • they even let their land rest for a full year every 7th year and they still had enough to meet their needs both that year and the following.
God's people were to be restful. They were to look like sheep in a green pasture, not rats in a race. Why? So that other people, other nations would know that their God was a good God who kept His word and took care of His people. When they rested, He received the glory He was due. When they disobeyed by fretting, overworking, hoarding, striving, and neglecting to rest, His reputation was tarnished.

I can shake my head at the Israelites and wonder why they couldn't keep this simple command (because they didn't keep it for long), but I'd spend my time better by evaluating my own life. And that's why I asked that simple question.

Ever wonder what your life looks like to others?

God's reputation is on the line if you profess to know Him, if you claim that He is your God and you are His child.

If I'm just another rat in the race, then anyone who examines my life could easily conclude that my God is not all He's cracked up to be. My striving and manipulating and fretting and overworking suggest that I'm on my own, I have no good God who is faithful to provide for me. But when I rest, cease from striving, lay down my worries, and trust Him completely, then my behavior gives testimony to His graciousness and love.

I'm concerned about the fact that many of us tend to wear our busyness like a badge of honor instead of seeing it as a slight against God's provision. We see someone we haven't seen in a while and one of the first three or four sentences out of our mouths is "Oh, I've just been so busy. You know...we're just always doing something. Busy, busy, busy." As though that's the goal. As though that attests to our worth somehow. When did that happen? I'll tell you when. The same day God declared to His people that they were to rest every seventh day, every seventh month, every seventh year. On that same day Satan began to plot and scheme to make God's people think that a life at rest is somehow a life worth less.

And we've bought it.

Rest is a big deal to our God for a good reason. A people a rest indicates a God at work.

Is He at work in your life? Then relax. And let the world around you see that you are at rest because you have a good Shepherd who has plopped you down in some fertile ground. If He makes you to lie down in green pastures, then lie down already. For His sake.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Want to Know a Secret?

I've always liked being "in the know." Conversely, I can't stand being out of the loop.

You know how that feels. You're with a group of people and enjoying good conversation with a steady beat. Someone says something sharp and pithy and you chime in with your own witty sentiments. Everyone either laughs or nods their heads in agreement. Someone else says something full of insight and you appreciate their sound input. Then an amazing thought comes to you and you voice it with well chosen words. And someone else adds to your amazing thought and before you know it you're all tossing an even larger conversation ball around. This type of dialog is sweet and savory.

Then the wind shifts.

Suddenly the very same people you were playing conversation four-square with just a minute ago have moved on to a topic on which you draw a blank. You don't even know who they're referring to, what they're talking about, why they are so passionate, how to contribute. While ago you were enjoying sweet conversation like you'd savor a shared dessert. But now you've lost your fork and can no longer dig in. You're out of the loop.

I hate that feeling.

Have you ever felt out of the loop with God? Have you ever read His Word and stared at the pages like the words were written in some indistinguishable code you couldn't decipher? Or have you ever sat through a sermon and gotten lost somewhere between turning from Leviticus to Habakkuk? Or maybe you've simply listened to other people talk about what God is teaching them, how fascinating they are finding their Bible readings, or what they heard Him say in their quiet time that morning and you've felt...well...out of the loop.

I know I have.

And while I still wander out of the loop occasionally, I now know how to stay in the know with God. He spells it out in His Word.

Who is the man that fears the Lord?
Him shall He teach in the way He chooses.
He himself shall dwell in prosperity,
and his descendants shall inherit the earth.
The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him,
and He will show them His covenant.
(Psalm 25:12-14)

Did you catch that? "The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him." Simply put, God shares the secret things with those who fear Him.

What secret things? 
  • He told Abraham He would make him a great nation and that nation would spend 400 years in captivity and then come out wealthy.
  • He gave Noah the heads up on an impending flood that would destroy the earth and its inhabitants.
  • He told Abraham He was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and even gave him the opportunity to bargain with Him over that decision.
  • He put it in Deborah's heart that it was time to go to battle against Israel's enemies.
  • He let David know that his house would be on the throne forever.
  • He gave Abigail insight into the minds of two men - one a fool and the other the future king of Israel.
  • He gave John a glimpse of heaven and things to come.
  • He spoke to Joseph in dreams and gave him insight to their meanings.
  • He called Samuel in the night and later told him who to choose as king of Israel.
  • He translated the writing on the wall for Daniel.
  • He sent Peter a dream so he would let up on the legalism.
  • He gave Paul visions he couldn't quite put into words, but he knew their meaning.
  • And He gave Peter a glimpse of his destiny.
I've heard many people speak about how to find God's will for your life, but the key to finding that "secret information" and other similar juicy facts is not in seeking the knowledge, but in seeking the One who holds the knowledge. When we draw close to God, in reverence and acknowledgment of  who He is, He slowly but surely discloses more and more to us.

I don't know exactly what He'll let you in on, but I know what He's taught me over time. He's shown me more of His character and His ways. He's given me insight about undesirable alliances, questionable teachers, deceptive character, and out-and-out lies. He's let me in on times when my children were being deceptive so I could catch them red-handed. He's also shown me hidden or dormant talents in other people so I could encourage them to use them. In other words, He's given me a dose of godly discernment at just the right times.

He's also affirmed His promises, reminded me of His provision, convicted me of "small" and almost invisible sins, shone a light on my path, and called me in certain directions.

I can't boast about these "secrets" that God has shared with me because He's more than willing to share similar secrets with anyone who fears Him, esteems Him rightly. Quite simply, there are some things God holds in a closed hand. They are not for everybody. But they are for everybody who asks Him with reverence and respect.

Today God invites us into the inner circle. We don't have to be out of the loop with Him. He has written His law on our hearts, given us a new spirit, and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and guide us. He has given us His preserved and holy and infallible Word. He has invited us into His holy dwelling place for sweet and personal communion. And He has offered to share His secrets with us.

Want to know a secret? Draw near to God, sweet friend, with reverence and awe. But draw near.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm Being Followed!

I'm being followed. In fact, it's been going on quite a while. Every where I go, every turn I take, they are following me.

Who's tracking me? Well look behind you. They're on your heals, too.

Sure goodness and mercy shall
follow me all the days of my life.
(Psalm 23:6a)

I read this portion of this all familiar scripture this morning in my daily Bible reading. And it struck me anew. Don't you love it when that happens? Suddenly I saw goodness and mercy like two unshakable, determined stalkers who never let me out of their sight. 

Of course, these two heal chasers don't follow me on their own accord. They are on a mission for the Good Shepherd, my Lord. He has instructed them to stick to me like glue -- and they have.

I've not always noticed their presence in every situation of life. Sometimes, in fact, I've felt like they had disappeared from the scene, like they had abandoned me. But when I trace my steps backward and study the evidence a little more carefully, I find that indeed their footprints are there right beside mine. They had left their mark even when I couldn't see them, hear them, or feel their presence. 

Goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life.
  • In the days of my childhood when God was so good to give me such a warm, loving, and safe home.
  • In my teen years when my parents showed me such mercy in light of my disrespect, my back-talking, my stubbornness, my arrogance.
  • In the many times I diverted from the straight and narrow and ventured into the wilderness. When I found merciful directions on how to return to a place of grace.
  • In God's good provision of a godly husband, healthy children, loving friends, and wise mentors.
  • In the merciful redemption of this sinner, saved by grace.
  • In the goodness shown to us by the churches we have served over the years.
  • In the mercy that has flooded my heart, eventually, when I've been hurt, betrayed, left behind, or wounded.
  • In God's merciful and faithful redemption of all that I squandered in different times in my life.
  • In the goodness of a beautiful day, a gentle rain, an enjoyable hike, a fun family vacation, a much needed pay raise, a sweet note of encouragement, a hand to hold mine.
In all the days of my life, my God has shown me mercy and goodness. And indeed, these two constant companions have shown themselves most visibly in the reflection of my rear view mirror. That's why today I'm taking the time to look behind me and acknowledge their hot and determined pursuit of me. I'm looking them square in the eye and telling them that I am completely aware that they are following me.

And I know Who sent them too.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Knocking on Wisdom's Door

The older I get, the more I realize that living well is not easy. Living? No big deal. Just breathe in and out. Living well? That's another story altogether.

I want to parent well, but that task has never been easy or gotten easier.

I want to serve the Lord well, but I seem to come up short more often than I succeed.

I want to manage my money well. My husband would say I have a long ways to go on that one.

I want to write well, but I'm never satisfied with the finished product.

I want to teach well, but I never feel completely prepared.

To do anything well it takes more than effort and determination. I've decided that to live well, really well, requires wisdom.

For the last few days in my Bible reading I've been reading through Proverbs 8 where wisdom takes on the personification of a woman and calls out to anyone who will seek her. She readily makes herself available, according to this passage in the book of wisdom, but few will make her a priority.

Lately I've been hearing a little bit about the Tiger Mom theories on parenting. Have you heard about this method of raising children? Often adopted by Asian parents (but not exclusively, by any means) this method includes pushing children to excel at all costs, limiting children's involvement with others, and insisting on extremely high standards.

On the other hand, I recently heard another parenting "expert" say that parents should simply "relax and enjoy the relationship more." According to this author, parenting isn't nearly as big a deal as many of us have made it out to be and we all ought to just chill a little.

It occurred to me as I listened to the debate between these two women -- the Tiger Mom and the laisez faire mom -- that there is someone else who has something to say on parenting: lady wisdom.

You see, we can listen to other voices on just about any issue in life, or we can seek out the counsel of lady wisdom. And by "lady wisdom" I simply mean Proverbs 8 wisdom, biblical wisdom, godly wisdom.

But here's the thing about lady wisdom. You won't likely find her on Good Morning America, where these other two ladies have made their positions clear. While lady wisdom is accessible to anyone, she has to be sought out.

The Bible teaches us that God makes wisdom accessible to every believer. It is free, without costs. It is readily available. And He gives it generously.

But we have to seek it. We have to ask for it. We have to dig for it.

It's been explained to me like this: There are some things that God holds in an open hand for His children. He holds out peace, forgiveness, mercy, goodness, love, and compassion in His open palm. These things and others are free for the taking. We always have His presence, His provision, and His protection. But wisdom is a little different. He holds it in a closed palm. He's not tight-fisted with it. He will gladly open His fingers and pour wisdom into our lives (James 1:5). But here's the catch. We have to ask for it. We have to really want it.

How badly do you want to be wise? How badly do you want to live well, wisely?

Here are some of the benefits lady wisdom offers in Proverbs 8:
  • discernment between right and wrong
  • straightforward advice
  • sound counsel in difficult situations
  • understanding of hard to diagnose dilemmas
  • power to make things happen
  • the ability to acquire and handle money
  • spiritual blessings
  • abundant life
  • favor with God
These are some pretty nice benefits, wouldn't you agree? Wisdom will pay dividends in my life as a parent, a friend, a wife, a church member, a writer, a maker and manager of money, a homemaker, a voter and every other area of my life.

So today instead of just breathing in and out I'm seeking me some wisdom. I'm asking for it. And I'm digging in the Word of God for it too. I'm going to seek it like much fine gold and mine for it like precious diamonds. And I know God will generously open His gracious hand and pour it in. I'm counting on it because I want to live well.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Waiting With Anticipation

Have you ever spent the day waiting for a service person of some sort to come to your home? The washer repair man, the carpet cleaners, the air conditioner service person, the furniture delivery crew? If you have, you know that you don't dare leave your house for even a few minutes to run to the post office or grab a Subway sandwich because, if you do, that's exactly when your anticipated "guest" will arrive.

Recently, Southwest Gas had to turn off gas service to thousands of homes here in southern Arizona because of a decrease in pressure in the lines due to high demand of gas. So in the coldest days of the year many of our friends didn't have hot water, heat or gas for cooking.

As the pressure in the lines began to equalize, the gas company began to send service people around to homes to turn the gas back on. But the catch was that you had to be home to get your gas restored. So where do you suppose many residents spent their weekend? You got it. They stayed home -- in their cold houses. It may have been a little uncomfortable (although our houses here in Arizona tend to heat up during the day as long as there is adequate sunshine, and there was), but those folks weren't going anywhere as long as there was the hope of getting the heat and hot water restored.

They were waiting with anticipation.

This morning I read Matthew 24 in my daily Bible reading. This is one of the few passages in the Bible where Jesus is telling His followers about His second coming. He's letting them know that there is yet more to come. There will be a day when He will return for His followers and they, we, need to be ready.

When will Jesus come exactly? We don't know. The angels in heaven don't know. He doesn't even know, oddly enough. Only the Father knows (Matthew 24:36).

But we can know this: He is coming at an hour when we least expect it.

Therefore you also be ready, 
for the Son of Man is coming
at an hour you do not expect.
(Matthew 24:44)

I need to be ready. Just like the folks who stayed home and anticipated the return of their gas service, I need to be watching and ready for my Savior's return.

But unlike my neighbors, I can't just be home sitting idle as I wait for Jesus to come again. Matthew 24:45-46 indicates that I need to be busy and eagerly anticipating His return. 

So what does that look like, that eager anticipation? Well, it just so happens that I heard Charles Stanley preach on that very topic this past weekend. Here's what he suggested we be doing while we wait:
  • Watch faithfully. Stanley suggests that we not only watch for the Lord to return, but stand fast in our faith with courage and strength while He tarries. He says we need to be watching out for false prophets and remaining aware of the signs of the times. But most importantly, we need to be watching like children hoping to get a glimpse of Santa Clause. We need to anticipate His return every day. Revelation 16:15 promises a special blessing for those who are watching with anticipation. "Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches."
  • Work diligently. Dr. Stanley reminded me that if God had nothing more for me to do than watch, He would have just zapped me on to heaven on the day of my salvation. But He didn't. He left me here to work on His behalf. First, I need to be sharing the good news of Salvation and my personal testimony with others. Secondly, I need to be growing spiritually and drawing closer to the Lord. That way I'll be ready for life in His very presence. That work never ends. There is always more to do.
  • Wait patiently. Undoubtedly, the longer we have to wait for Jesus' return, the worse things will begin to seem on this earth. There will be more wars, more violence, more injustice, more natural disasters. If I lose my patience with Christ's return, I may begin to fear the situations in my world. I may begin to feel like things are out of control and there is no hope. But Jesus intentionally left us with peace. "My peace I give you," said Jesus before He left His disciples. We need to wait patiently for Him to return and we need to cling to that peace that surpasses understanding as things continue to spiral down . We don't need to fear, but to hope, with certainty, that He will come soon.
We usually grumble and complain and watch the clocks while we wait for service people to show up at our houses. But we sure are glad when they finally arrive. Sometimes they don't arrive, huh? But Jesus will surely come. And until He does, He encourages us to wait with joyful anticipation - watching faithfully, working diligently, and waiting patiently.

He is coming again. Are we ready?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Are You Using a Filter?

I'm all for spilling the beans, as you hopefully picked up from my last post. But I also know enough about making coffee to know you have to use a filter if you don't want to swallow a lot of garbage!

Recently I got an earful from a woman who, I'm assuming, thought she was just good-naturedly spilling the beans. But these weren't good, wholesome Arabica beans she was pouring out to everyone around her. She had ground up the bare nuggets of her story and was spilling out the juicy details to anyone in earshot. All of this is coffee house talk for "she was saying too much, way too much!" By the time her tirade was over and done with I'm pretty sure everyone around her felt like we had coffee stains all down our shirts and we needed to go wash up. It was not a pretty sight. Or sound.

My diagnosis? This woman had forgotten to use her filter.

Not too long ago I made coffee for my Bible study class and forgot to put the coffee in the filter. We ended up with nothing more than hot water with a hint of old coffee taste in it.

But this woman spilled the beans without putting them through the filter first.

Filters are just as important in our conversations as they are in making a good pot of coffee. Using the proper filter results in conversation that is smooth, energizing, appealing, and easy to digest. But when we don't use the right filters to sift our words we end up saying things that are offensive, bitter, and hard to swallow.

This morning I read in my daily Bible reading:

Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14)

This is the scripture my mom's Sunday school class recites together every week as they dismiss class. These women are in their ...um...well they're older than me. And they still know to use a good filter. They know how difficult it is, how tempting it is to just spill the beans unbridled by discernment or good judgment. I'm sure that, like the rest of us, these women have had their gossip sessions, their husband bashing moments, their sharp witted criticisms, their roasted Pastor dinners, their spewing sessions...but they realize that's not best. And so each week they commit to each other and the Lord who is in their presence that they will filter their words through Him.

How exactly do you use this filter? You choose your words carefully, like well chosen and especially aromatic coffee beans. You realize that not everything that enters your mind needs to exit through your mouth. Instead you aim to brew up only that which really needs to be said - that which edifies, blesses, gives grace, and glorifies God. And you run it all by Him first.

You know what that means? It means we'll have to think before we speak. It means we'll have to listen twice as much as we speak. And it means there will undoubtedly be a lot of things that we want to say, but we don't. We'll show a little constraint, some good judgment.

To me, a good spilling of the beans means that I'm being transparent, real, and honest about my own flaws and hurts and struggles. But when I spill the beans I need to be careful that I only spill my beans and not someone else's. And even then I need to filter out anything that would trigger gossip, offend others, initiate speculation, or sow the seeds of contempt. That way, when I spill the beans we're all able to drink it down like a good cup of smooth coffee instead of choking on the unsifted grounds of gossip, criticism, sarcasm, or any other brand of ugliness.

So let's all commit to using our filters. It'll help a latte!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Have You Spilled the Beans Lately?

We all have a story to tell. Yesterday I had lunch with two friends and enjoyed hearing a bit of their stories.

We had met for the purpose of getting ready for a "Spill the Beans Cafe" at our church this coming Friday night. My two friends will be the in the spotlight as they "spill the beans" about a particular problem they've both encountered (anxiety and worry), but we're hoping to get all the other women at this women's event to get real with each other, too, and share a little of their own stories. So we met for lunch in order to make sure we were all on the same page.

But something much more special happened than just getting on the same page. By the time I walked away from Chili's and got in my car, I had a renewed spring in my step and a smile on my face. The three of us, not especially close friends but more like budding friendships, had been real with each other, talked about scriptures that encouraged us, shared from our personal experiences, and encouraged each other in the Lord. More than once, one of us said to the others, "This is how God has worked in my life..." And more than once, my faith in God was increased and my hope was anchored anew in His Word.

Granted, our conversation got to a pretty deep level fairly fast because we needed to cut to the chase. While we don't have especially intimate relationships up to this point, we spilled the beans with each other like we were spilling Scrabble tiles on a game table, ready to turn those tiles over and make sense of it all. But while we may have had an agenda that facilitated our quick intimacy, I was reminded that we all waste way too much time with inane small talk and chatter, not so much out of politeness, but more out of fear.

I'm not suggesting we spill all our beans with just every Tom, Dick or Harriet, but when we find someone that our spirits affirm as godly, wise, and loving, we might be safe to tell a little more, open up. At least, we could tell the most important stories -- the ones about what God has done for us.

This morning in my Bible I read:
So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law,
bowed down, and kissed him.
And they asked each other about their well-being, 
and they went into the tent.
(Exodus 18:7)

Now at this point, many of us would just exchange pleasantries. We'd keep it safe and talk about the weather, the father-in-law's trip, what we'll be serving for supper. But Moses had a story to tell.

And Moses told his father-in-law all 
that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and 
to the Egyptians for Israel's sake,
all the hardship that had come upon them on the way,
and how the Lord had delivered them.
(Exodus 18:8)

Moses told Jethro (his father-in-law) about the ups and downs, the good and the bad. He told him about how his God had worked in the tough situations. And my bet is he even told him how it made him feel. He must have at least shared his story with some passion and enthusiasm because here's what happened next:

Then Jethro rejoiced for all the good
which the Lord had done for Israel,
whom He had delivered out of 
the hand of the Egyptians.
And Jethro said,
"Blessed be the Lord, 
who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians 
and out of the hand of Pharaoh, 
and who has delivered the people 
from under the hand of the Egyptians. 
Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; 
for in the very thing in which they have behaved proudly,
He was above them.
(Exodus 18:9-11)

Did you see what happens when we tell someone about our low places, our desperate situations? And did you noticed what happened when Moses told Jethro about how God had brought them through those tough times? Not only did God get the glory He deserved, but Jethro decided that God is the one true god!

Moses shared his testimony and Jethro responded. We often think of a testimony as something you have to write down, organize, practice, lace with scriptures, and deliver with trembling precision. But sharing your testimony is really just spilling the beans about what God is doing in your life right now or in the past.

When was the last time you had a heart to heart with someone about what God has pulled you through? When was the last time you spilled the beans about your mistakes, your weaknesses, your valleys, your struggles and then told how God is working in your life?

One of my favorite scriptures is Psalm 66:16, which says:

Come and hear, all who fear God, 
and I will tell what He has done for my soul.
(Psalm 66:16)

When God is at work in our lives we do a disservice by not sharing that work with others. They need to know. It will encourage them, build their faith, strengthen their resolve, and anchor their hope.

If you live around here (and you're female!) I encourage you to come to our Spill the Beans Cafe this Friday night, February 4. We're going to "talk a latte" and see what brews. But mainly we're going to tell what God has done for our souls.

And no matter where you are, let me make my pitch for letting someone in enough to get a glimpse of what God is up to in your life. Sure, that may mean getting a little more real than you're used to, but that's ok. Find a safe place and spill those beans! Just make sure you give a shout out for God in the process. You never know what that might do for someone else who has the very same beans in her own cup!