Thursday, October 26, 2017

What's the Matter?

What is the matter?

What is your matter?

One of the major Biblical prophets, Isaiah, had a matter to address - the sin of his people.  Israel's matter was ugly, rampant sin.  God wanted to settle the matter, once and for all.

God used Isaiah to talk to the people, and these are the words Isaiah spoke to them:

"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the Lord.  "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."  (Isaiah 1:18)

So what is your problem, issue, dilemma?
What is the matter?

Coming to the Lord with our problems, our matters, is really a simple process.  We just make it so complicated.  We stall and don't deal with our matters in a timely manner.  We craft a plethora of excuses.

Come:  He wants us to move toward Him.  To Him.  To initiate the resolution.

Now:  Don't delay any longer.  The matter won't likely resolve on its own.

Let:  Allow it to happen.  His way.  The best way.  According to His plan.

Us:  Together, working with Him, we will deal with the matter.

Settle:  Lay it to rest.  Forever.

The Matter:  Whatever the problem is.

Says the Lord:  He is the One with all the wisdom, help, love, and solutions to whatever ails us!

"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the Lord!

So what's your matter?  How will you choose to deal with it?

Monday, October 23, 2017

Wooden Spoons and Grace

Lindsay (on left) with me
For whatever reason, daughter Lindsay has always had a way with her Dad.  When I talk to my husband (her father) about her, he has no explanation for this phenomenon.  He just laughs and admits she could wrangle just about anything out of him.  It's not that she is a favorite of our four children, but for whatever reason his soft spot for her is huge.

We did not "spare the rod, spoil the child."  No, we tried our best to hold to Biblical standards of discipline.  Some of the children seemed to get the paddling more than others.  Of our four children, Lindsay was probably the least strong-willed, the most compliant.  She didn't seem to need the corrections as much as the others.  In fact, just a sideways look from Mom or Dad, and she was immediately remorseful and totally reformed.

I had in the house a varied collection of wooden cooking spoons that we used when the kiddos needed a "reminder on the behinder."  Some were large spoons with long handles.  Others had slots in the spoon end.  The kids claimed those spoons were highly dreaded.  A few of my spoons had very short handles.  I called those the purse models.  Just because we were out and about did not mean a free ticket to misbehave.  The kids were well aware that I always had a spoon along, just in case.

There was one mysterious incident involving Lindsay that we came to understand years later.  She had misbehaved, and Dad had the duty to take her up in the bedroom and make an adjustment on her backside.  Days later, she informed us that together they devised a plan: while he smacked the spoon down hard onto the bed she would cry appropriately.  The two of them were smirking at each other the rest of that evening, enjoying their own private secret.

We all understand now that Grace was administered that evening up in her room.

The story of the adulteress brought to Jesus in John 8:1-59 is one of the best illustrations of grace.

She was caught in the act.
The law required stoning of such a person.
She didn't speak a word.
No denial.
No begging or asking for mercy or forgiveness.

Jesus extended it to her, though, in his great compassion and love for her.  

Those who brought her looked for allegiance to punishment; Jesus looked for compassion.

Jesus maneuvered the situation so that the woman could see and know that all were sinners.  The others were forced to admit that they were no better than her.  He leveled the status of all.

This is truly the gospel message right here in a moment.  We all have sinned and are in need of a savior's grace.

             Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

Jesus didn't look to condemn her; he found a way to save her.  That is why he came, after all.

The older ones in the crowd left first.  Why were they the first to wander off?  Maybe the younger ones hadn't dealt yet with their own pride and self-righteousness.  It was hard for them to give up their indignation.

Oh, and why wasn't the man who was participating in the act of adultery with her brought in?

Jesus' directions to the woman:

1.  Go
2.  Now
3.  Leave your life of sin.

Go back home, immediately "pack your bags," and move on to a new way of living.

Jesus wouldn't have told her to do something that was impossible to do.  In just a few moments this woman was given a whole new lease on life, a hope and a future.

She met a man who showed her true love, not exploitation.

She learned her worth as a woman was equal to all of the men, even the scholars and leaders of her society.

And, she met the Lover of Her Soul.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What Happens in Your Driveway?

We live in a broken world.

Every day it seems more obvious that the majority of those around me are simply hurting people.

The daily news verifies that this is so.  The faces of the people I see while doing daily grocery shopping and errands tell me this is so.  The repentance and enthusiastic response to the evangelistic crusades that Franklin Graham has been leading in Texas this month tell me this is so.  Even the hunger I detect when walking through the halls and rooms in my own church tells me this is so.

There are so many hurting people.  People who need answers.  People who need the Truth.

Today the responsibility I bear as a Christian is in the forefront of my thoughts.  There is no time to waste.  My life is not my own.  There is limited chance to reach these people.  Someday soon that limited window of opportunity will be gone.

Followers of Christ do not have the right to live a life of limited influence.

Someone is watching you today.  Someone needs you to be Jesus right in front of them.

Great responsibility.
Powerful opportunity.
May I own it.

Jon Acuff, speaker and author, made this statement two days ago to a group of church leaders, and I think it applies to every single one of us that calls himself a Christian:

"The first church a neighbor visits is your driveway.  You don't get to be a good church and a bad neighbor."

I think that hits right at the heart of the issue.

We need to live so that we show the Truth.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Lost and Found

Recently I read the story of the Prodigal Son again.  See Luke 15:11-32 if you want to refresh your memory.  It's a classic - one of the best stories ever.

I've always loved this parable, yet this time I seemed to see so much more in it than every other time I read it.  One son gets "lost" and is "found" in the end.  The other son is "lost," and as of the end of the account is still quite sadly "lost."

I allowed myself a few minutes to think back over my life and recall various items I've lost.  I'm sure I lost many more things than those that came to mind.  However, the fact that I remembered these items is proof that in some sense they were valuable to me or to others.

Here is the list of the things I recall losing:

1.  A small change purse on the train to Hershey Amusement Park.  I was probably seven or eight at the time and traveling there with my best friend and her family.

2.  My baby daughter's security bunny in a McDonald's.  I speculate it fell on the floor and was put into the trash by someone.  If you've ever had a child who needs that favorite blankie, or pacifier, or whatever it is, you know how devastating a loss like this can be.

3.  My young son in a clothing store one day. Yes, he thought he was being so clever when he hid under a circular clothing rack in a department store.  He didn't even make a peep until I became nearly hysterical.

4.  My daughter's Cabbage Patch Big Wheels tricycle.  Actually it was stolen, but she was heart-broken, unable to ride with her posse up and down the block after that.

5.  My son's trumpet.  He left it sit there at the bus stop when he got on the school bus.  Thankfully it was recovered and returned to us.

6.  My child's orthodontic retainer.  (It went into the school cafeteria trash can when the lunch tray was dumped.)

7.  My grandmother's diamond ring, which was to eventually be mine.  An alzheimer's sufferer, she could've put it anywhere.  Or flushed it.  Or ate it.

8.  An earring.  The partner to it still sits in my jewelry box, many years later.  Why do I still have it? I really liked those earrings.

9.  Lots of hair after the birth of each of my four children.  Seemed like I was increasingly losing more of myself.

10.  Weight.  I've always "found" it again later.

Some of these things are lost forever; some have been recovered and returned.

Thinking about the story of the Prodigal Son on a deeper level, I've come to realize that we tend to come and go.  We, too, go lost, missing for periods of time.  Sometimes we come back home.

There's an old saying, "I got to rock bottom, and then I realized there was a basement under that."  I suppose there's several ways one can interpret the meaning of that statement.  For one, things can always get worse.  Or two, there's always a shelter, no matter how bad things get.  There's always another way out.  The Father is always waiting and searching for us.  He wants us home with Him.

The prodigal (lost) son packed all he had, not just an overnight bag, and left for a distant country.  His intention was to get far away and have a rip snorting' good time there.  He hadn't really thought beyond that.

How many of us regularly travel to "a distant country?"

Just as that lost son did, we, too, squander our "wealth" there with wild living.  That is, we dabble outside our relationship with Jesus in the wild living of worldly pleasures and pursuits that don't satisfy.

Are you "found?"

Are you home?

Let me assure you with all certainty, your Daddy wants you back.

Humbly repent, turn around, go back.  Please.

There's a party waiting for you there.  A grand celebration beyond the limits of your imagination is waiting for you.

And He's there.  He's been anxiously waiting for you ever since you left.

He'll run to you on the path.  Go to Him.  Hurry.

There's no place like Home.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Kindness Is Free

Note:  The following post is an excerpt from my latest book, Risking it All: One Woman's Adventure Giving Away Her Income.  The manuscript is ready for editing.

I no longer have an income.  For now, that’s just the way it is.  We will get along on my husband’s income, and I have every confidence that our needs will be met.

Kindness is absolutely free, though.  It costs nothing other taking the effort to observe where and when it is needed, and making a small expenditure of physical energy to go and distribute that kindness to the one who needs it.

I experienced this firsthand today in our local Subway sandwich shop. 

While waiting in line, I witnessed a sad interchange between the customer before me and the sandwich artist preparing lunch for him and his two other family members.

That clerk asked him if the three sandwiches were together, and he rudely responded, “Yes, but you would have known that if you had paid attention the first time.”

I keenly felt the fallout of those death-disbursing words.  I quietly observed the girl thinking for a quick second before she carefully responded, “Thank you.  It’s been very busy and I just wanted to make sure.”

A very classy comeback to a very mean-spirited remark, to be sure.

However, I could see the defeat on her face as she continued making my sandwich and those for the rest of the customers in the line.  Not only had he been unnecessarily rude in his words and the tone thereof, he had also humiliated her in front of a shop full of customers. 

Every day we have the power of life and death through our words, and today that customer spewed death.  The verse reminding me of this truth came to my mind as I sat there eating my hoagie and watching the activity in the restaurant. 

“The tongue has the power of life and death and those who love it will eat its fruit.”  (Proverbs 18:21)

I formulated my plan.  I waited till the man and his family finished their meals and left.  Then I headed over to the corner of the store where that clerk was busily refilling the drinks refrigerator.

I gave her a few kind words.  I said I noticed how poorly the customer in line responded to her, and I praised her for taking the higher road with her classy response to him.  I said I’ve worked in public jobs and I know people are not always friendly or easy to serve. 
I told her I understand that his one sentence to her held the power to ruin her day and make her feel like a miserable failure.  I told her to pick up her chin and feel good about herself, despite how his words had fallen on her.

With tears in her eyes, she thanked me for noticing and for going out of my way to shower a bit of kindness onto her.  She smiled.

I think I noticed her working and standing just a tad taller after that as she worked around the store.

Kindness is free. 

May we look for ways to “spend” it lavishly on everyone around us.

Monday, October 9, 2017

At A Crossroads

I love Mondays.  Yes, I’m one of those few weird ones who enjoy the start of a new workweek.  To me, they are a clean slate, another chance to improve, and a new possibility of getting it “right.”

So this morning when I was having my coffee and reading time, a verse in Jeremiah 6 jumped out at me.  It showed me that yes, indeed, each Monday is like a new crossroads.

Jeremiah has been telling the Israelites that God is going to bring destruction to them because of their unrepentant hearts and ongoing sin.  God has continually called to them, yet they have ignored Him and continued on in their evil ways. 

But even so, God loves them and yearns for His people to be right with Him.  In the midst of a picture of coming devastation, here is what God says to them (and us) through Jeremiah (verse 16):

Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is,
and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.”

(I added the bold font to emphasize the action words.)

I’m picturing myself standing at a crossroads.  Most typical crossroads have four options of ways to go, but some have even more than four.  “Five points” is a well-known spot in my little town.  You guessed it – five roads converge at that intersection. 

I traveled to San Antonio, Texas back in the spring.  Somehow the engineers there have figured out how to join eight and more roads together at one crossroads.  It was baffling and sometimes overwhelming.

As it is at many crossroads of life.

So there are usually several ways one can go at a crossroads.  Some of those ways may be wide “highways” or they may be tiny “side roads.”

Often times most people are going together on the same one, the “wide way.”

We are directed to stand and look when we get to these crossroads.  Don’t just charge down the road.   This reminds me of the Fire Safety Motto, “Stop, Drop, and Roll.”  In life we “Stop, Stand, and Look” before proceeding.

Examining the verse again, I think it is significant that we are told twice to ask.  Maybe that is so we keep asking until we are totally sure of the way to go.
Only then, when we are sure of the ancient way, the good way to go, we walk in it.  We do not only know the way to go, we actually walk in it.

Do not follow the crowd where it goes.
Be intentional about your physical, moral, and spiritual choices.
Know that rest for your souls will not come outside of being in the will of God for your life.

I resolve not to simply live my life like the majority of other Americans.  I will stop, stand, look, and ask repeatedly until I know the way to proceed. 

Then, when I recognize God’s path, I will walk in it and enjoy glorious rest for my soul.

Wanna join me?  It's sure to be a great adventure!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Brunch and Books Club

It's time for another Brunch and Books Club this weekend in my home. I always look forward to seeing my book nerd friends again.

Fall colors
A couple of years ago I kept rolling the idea of hosting a book club around in my mind.  I'd always wanted to be member of a book club, but whenever I'd see a flyer advertising a local book club, the featured book of the month held no appeal for me.  So I never joined, but I never lost the desire to somehow participate in one, either.

Fast forward to the start of this year, and I decided to make it happen.  Honestly I had an ulterior motive: to meet new people and expand my current circle of friends and acquaintances.  I created a Brunch and Books Club to facilitate my dream.  I sent official snail mailed invitations to about a dozen of my friends, detailing the plan and announcing the first club meeting.

Fun giveaways
Over time, hopefully we would all meet new friends.
We'd enjoy leisurely visiting and conversation, all over a delicious meal.
Each participant would feel welcomed and special, whether she had read anything in the last month or not.
Each attendee could select, read, and report of the book of her choice.
Old fashioned library book rental cards would be available for writing down titles of interest.
Attendees would be encouraged to bring along new guests, thus growing the group over time.
The meetings would keep to an hour and a half, allowing attendees to get on with their day.
Fun prizes would be awarded at the end of each club meeting to those whose names were drawn out of a hat. Who doesn't like giveaways?  The magnetic book markers have especially been a hit.

The club has been meeting once a month since the beginning of this year.  We gather on the first Saturday morning of each month, from 10:00 to about 11:30.  Attendance varies, depending who's away on vacation.

Our time starts with some chitchat around the kitchen table while coffee, tea, and any other beverages are served.  When it seems as if everyone has arrived, the meal is served, buffet style.  While eating we visit, getting to know new guests and catching up with the others.  The menu varies from month to month, along with the colors and themes of the paper plates, napkins and other table decor.

After most are finished with the meal, we clear the table and then report on the books we've read.  Going around the table, one by one, we each tell about our book.  Some folks talk for a minute or less, some longer.  Usually conversation develops after we hear each report.  Sometimes books are loaned to another eager reader, or titles are written down to remember and purchase later.

Finally, we share other reading-related news - dates of local book fairs, addresses of newly-discovered, second-hand book stores. Attendees often want an update on what stage I am at in writing my latest book.

After drawing names for the giveaways and announcing the date of the next brunch and books club meeting, we say our goodbyes until next time.

This week the menu will be:
     Apple French Toast Bake (toppings are confectioners sugar and maple syrup)
     Breakfast Sausages
     Banana halves and grapes
     "Dessert" - Assorted Ghirardelli chocolate squares
     Coffee, tea, juice and water

I'll be reporting on two books (I couldn't narrow it down to just one this time!)
The Long Road Home by Earle L. Wilson and Lawrence W. Wilson
Thank You Notes 2 by Jimmy Fallon

Does this sound like something you'd enjoy?  Have you ever participated in a book club?  If so, I'd love to learn of your experience.

Also, if you're in my local area and you'd like to join us, please contact me.  We'd be glad to have you.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Bullying Hits Close to Home

This morning I sadly learned again from my daughter that my grandchildren have once again become victims of bullying.

This fall they moved up in grade level to the next school building in their district.  After their last school year, a painful year full of bullying, ostracizing by the popular cliches, and multiple unproductive meetings between their parents and teachers and school counselors, over the summer the hope had grown that moving into a new school would alleviate the problem.

Unfortunately, after only one month into this new school year and new building, all those summer hopes have been swiftly dashed.

As I write this my heart has been shattered into a million shards, and each piece is piercing me with sharp pain.  I cannot resist questioning our whole society and how did we possibly get to where we are today.

How did it get to the point where sixth graders can post Instagram videos to the entire social media world campaigning for their "friends" to ostracize other classmates?

I compiled several dictionary definitions of the word "bullying," are here is just a partial list what it means to bully:

to persecute          to intimidate           habitual aggressive humiliating behavior
to oppress             to strong-arm         domination by ostracizing or ridicule
to tyrannize          to dominate
to browbeat          to compel
to harass               to badger
to torment            to coerce

Wikipedia defines "bullying" as the use of force, threat, or coercion, to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others.

Any way we look at this issue, it is ugly, and it causes damage.  Furthermore, all accounts report instances of bullying are on the rise, and in some locales, darn nearly out of control.

There are several things that most psychologists agree on relative to bullying:

1.  There is hostile intent.  (ex.  A bully doesn't accidentally exclude a person from his own posse.)

2.  There is an imbalance of power.  (ex.  The bully believes he has good reason to exert power over his victim.  He believes his victim is annoying, and therefore should be ridiculed and excluded.)

3.  Bullying reoccurs over time.  (Short of some strong external intervention including serious consequence, bullies continue bullying.)

4.  The victim of bullying clearly exhibits distress in some way.  (We will easily see personality changes, social behaviors change, or physical trauma.)

5.  The bully is convinced his aggressive or other behaviors are warranted and beneficial to himself.

I want to pick up a hammer and knock sense into somebody.

I want to say SHAME ON YOU!

Shame on you, to every leader, dictator, administrator, teacher, teacher who is also a parent, PARENTS, or student who in any way models this behavior, accepts it, or fails to punish it.

Have we learned nothing from decades of war, domination, racism, slavery, and history in general?  What has happened to basic love and kindness, and to the priority of teaching our children the same?

Maybe I've got an overly simple opinion of this hellacious crisis, but I believe centuries of ignoring the words of God through his son Jesus Christ need to be reversed.  Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39)

Love your neighbor as yourself.  Now there's a thought.

We need to heed these two wise commandments.  Immediately.

Precious lives are at stake.